Saturday, December 15, 2012
This is my term paper from my last class. It is a little long for a blog post but I thought it better not to break it up into more than one post.
It is easy to get caught up in a word. The Bible is a fascinating journey that can lead to revelation. However, a person must take care not to press some words too far to make the word fit his or her own personal perspective. A person can easily come to the Scripture with presumptions that can mislead or even blind him or her from the truth contained in Scripture.
This paper will focus mostly on the word “Logos” and the background in Greek, Hebrew, and (of course), English. I do find myself at a disadvantage not having studied the original languages. I do hope to glean from credible scholars and represent them in a proper manner. This paper will also cover the thoughts that John used and possible reasoning behind his choice of words. Again, taking advice from D. A. Carson from his book Exegetical Fallacies, much care must be taken in not abusing our gift of words
Most people read the word “Logos” in John 1:1 to just mean “word” or at best “Word”. However, if the idea of Logos is not understood, believers may be missing a deeper understanding in why this word was used and its importance in understanding who Jesus is. The passage that will be referenced to is John 1:1-15. I am adding it here so that it will be easy for the reader to refer to the passage.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (NIV).
Logos: In Hebraic thought
There is no direct translation of logos in Hebrew the idea of the concept was still present. “Davar” may be the closest Hebrew word that carries the idea of Logos. According to Kittel, the meaning of “Davar” is the material concept with its energy felt so vitally in the verbal concept that the word appears as a “material force that is always present and at work, which runs and has the power to make alive”
(Kittel 1981, 91-100).
Logos was a fairly new concept in the timeline of history though the origins of the concept had been around in embryonic stages for many years. According to Blomberg (2009, 187) the Hebraic usage of the word “logos” would bring to mind God’s spoken word and also intertwines with the written word of God or Torah (Kittel, 1981, 99). This idea is even backed up by John later in chapter 5 where Jesus states: “You search the Scriptures, for you believe they give you eternal life. And the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39, NIV). To add more depth, the Hebrew equivalent for “logos” is also “truth” (Kittel, 1981, 93.)
As the Ten Commandments were written on stone to symbolize the never changing nature of the Law as “truth”, so also the Jewish mindset would see “logos” as never changing and static. In a sense, John (though in actuality God) is stating to the Jewish reader, “The Truth (Torah) became flesh and walked amongst us.” Today most believers in Jesus appear to have this view in mind as they speak or teach on Logos and while it is correct, it is rather one-dimensional. To have the written word of God become flesh suddenly forces the Jew to see God on an even more personal level. For the revelation John reveals is God’s written word taking on humanity and walking as a human being.
The idea that John was writing a Midrash in his opening of his Gospel is not that far of a stretch. Marilynne Robinson states the idea that John’s prologue and use of Logos was a means to expound Genesis 1 as well as Proverbs 8:22-31. Robinson promotes Daniel Boyarin’s idea of the connection between Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8:22-31 and the integration of creation and Wisdom (Robinson, 2012, 11). Here we see in the verses of Proverbs 8:22-23 a direct connection to Genesis:
"The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth.” (NIV).
There is no stretch so say that John may have pulled from these verses to state the opening of John 1. The connection to the idea Logos and Wisdom as being before and at the moment of creation, gives weight to the idea that Jesus was the personification of Wisdom, and (as John connects the dots for us), making Jesus pre-existing thus furthering the idea that Jesus is greater than Wisdom for He was Wisdom in flesh.
Most theologians, such as Leonard Sweet, will point to Heraclitus as the origin of the concept of logos in Greek philosophy (Sweet, 1999). However, if not for Thales of Miletus who first devised methods of abstract geometry as well as began the concept of logos with the idea that water was the fundamental material of the universe, Heraclitus would not have had a foundation to build on (Asimov, 1969). Interestingly, 2 Peter 3:5 backs Thales of Miletus’ idea of water being fundamental material.
Heraclitus further developed the idea and definition of logos for Greek thought. Leonard Sweet states the definition as, “Logos is that which holds contradictions and opposites together”. As Sweet further explains:
“[Heraclitus] used Apollo’s instruments to explain. A stick is but a stick, Heraclitus said. But triangulate the stick’s extremities, and one has the lyre and the bow. Extremes, when “strung” under the power of the divine Logos, produce harmony, and balance” (1999, 163).
Heraclitus also built upon the idea developed by Pythagoras who conceptionalized the first definition of “kosmos” to mean, “world”, though still may have been using the idea of “order” or “organism”. Building on the concept of “order” or “kosmos” we see the development of a type of appealing to the divine in which logos is the word or message as well as carrying in it independence and yet also exhorting the men to listen, “not to me but to logos” (Guthrie, 1952, 96).
Guthrie further explains Heraclitus further develops the idea of Logos to be identified as “the primal and everlasting stuff from which the kosmos had evolved” (96). Guthrie also states that we can credit Sextus Empiricus for attaching the post-Aristelian philosophers doctrines like the Stoics idea that one can breathe in logos as if it were air or with air (96). In a sense, the idea that as we live and breathe, we gain life from the divine logos itself. Logos further developed as a concept to be connected with rational element in speech, and expressed will of the speaker (Kittel, 1981, 81). To further grasp a fuller understanding of the development, the idea that logos is both the speaking and the understanding of an idea or concept. As a point of interest and intersection between Heraclitus and the Apostle John, both resided in Ephesus and while Heraclitus was in the 6th century B.C. his influence was felt in Ephesus. Here we see a point were it would be of interest and importance to acknowledge this concept if the Gospel were written in Ephesus where John resided for many years.
Logos: The Stoics
Returning to Pythagoras who declared that unity and order were of “a Kosmos” we find he also promoted the idea of this order coming from “a mind” (Rendall, 1921, 1). While Socrates and others welcomed this idea with enthusiasm, they gave up on the idea as it gave no attempt for this “Mind” as far as genesis, method, or goal is concerned (Ibid). However, the Stoics the idea of “a Mind” seemed too precise and personal and believed to assume “a Mind” is to assume a deity that was an idea that could not be subscribed (Ibid). The Stoics preferred Logos over “a Mind” as the “ever-existent word or Reason as the sovereign ordinance by which the Universe pursues its course.” (Ibid).
The Stoics also attached moralism via the means of development of the concept of “consciousness” (Marietta, 1970, 12). With the attachment to moralism the Stoics separated matter into “moral and non-moral matters” (Ibid). According to Marietta (1970) “[t]he Greeks did not differentiate between conscience and consciousness as speakers of English do. The ethical and non-ethical aspects… were conveyed by the same word and only the context indicated the moral quality of the object of consciousness” (178). Rendall (1921) asserts the Stoics attempted to supply a basis for “moral independence, of the soul”, as well as moral independence to the world and ultimately, man was master of his own will (7).
It becomes easier to understand Gnostic development as we see the foundation built on the word “Logos”. The Gnostics believed in the dualist idea that material was evil and spirit good (Gundry, 2003, 261). The idea that Jesus never really was “human” or that someone else such as Simon of Cyrene died in Jesus’ place was promoted to support the dualism of material and spirit division (Ibid, 287). For John to say of Jesus that he became flesh would be a major knockout punch to dualism as it would impose the realization that either matter is now mixed with the divine. In a sense, it would place the idea that the perverse and the holy were mixed, thus making one to see both as something new.
More than “word”
Rendall (1921) writes that it is easy for modern scholars to become victim to the ambiguity of the word “Logos” (5). However, it is easy, to see that John’s choice of using Logos was no accident and carried weight in a variety of circles in his time. John brings this passage (John 1:1-18) to the center of attention as he uses it as understood, yet also expands the idea of Logos in quite a shocking and fascinating way. Logos, as a word, is not just as commonly translated “word” or even “Word”. It is a concept well developed and carries much more weight than singular. We can only speculate why John chose to use this word and all its meaning. While we may see that John was in the seat of the birthplace of the concept of logos, it is also another to remember the Holy Spirit who guided the writes of Scripture as the source and inspiration.
Logos: “became flesh”
John’s expansion of the idea of Logos crushes the idea of the Impersonal God of much of Greek philosophy. Imagine, as a Gnostic or Stoic, listening as John’s Gospel was read, and to use modern day vernacular, saying, “Amen John! You get it! Logos being divine and out of the Great Mind is what we have been saying all along.” With great joy they listen and suddenly, (like in those movies when at a party the record scratches and everything stops), John states in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (NIV). John’s audience would come to a point of crossing. Do they accept who Jesus is or reject him? If “the Word became flesh”, and Jesus is The “Word”, then Jesus is greater than any impersonal deity thus far imagined.
Even the Jews listening would have to accept or reject the claim the Torah or spoken word of God “became Flesh”. While it is one thing to believe God as personal and interactive (as to which the Torah represented), it is another to say something written becomes a living being, let alone equal with God or even God himself.
Logos: A return to Genesis
Imagine being a brilliant inventor. In your mind, you see a finished product. You begin to design and then build a means to get to your finished product. In the end, not only did you envision your product, build a means to construct it; you also saw that product become a finished production just as you envisioned it. You have witnessed the imaginary become a reality. In a sense, Jesus was uniquely the imagined image God had that set into motion the reality of who Jesus is.
To see another detail John is doing, we must turn to Genesis chapter one. Here is found the world starts out in darkness. This is interesting as often it is stated darkness is the absence of light or that without light darkness cannot exist. However, here in Genesis, darkness was first, before light. We read that the Father was moving across the chaos of the waters by His Spirit and as He moved the chaos began to change. From the very first Word of God, came creation (Gen. 1:1).
“And God said…” (Gen 1:3, NIV)
This little phrase has so much more meaning than most give it credit. Here this phrase must take the reader immediately to John chapter 1. 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (NIV)
Even before the actual words were spoken the Word was. God’s Word was within Him and was eternal. There is no beginning or end for God’s Word; however, most miss the most important thing. In passage in Genesis that little phrase, “And God said…” was Jesus Himself. The Father was about to speak and through the Son create order out of Chaos.
It appears possible God was thinking of His Son as the Spirit brooded over the chaos of the waters. As God moved by His Spirit over the chaos, God was expressing an emotion that needed creative release. He was about to start a conversation that was without beginning and without end, as it already had begun in the Father, yet to us, for mankind’s sake was just beginning. For the conversation starts with the phrase, “In the beginning…” and in that beginning, rather, even before that beginning we find “…God…” Do not be confused as this in no way means this is the beginning of God, but only of His Conversation or Speech.
If a person looks closely at the Genesis account he or she will see something amazing open up. God is the Grand Speaker, Jesus is the Word being spoken in the “Let there be…” and Jesus is moved upon the by the Holy Spirit (The Breath). The Unity of the Three appears just as when someone speaks. A speaker cannot move words without breath, nor can breath alone move words without the speaker. The speaker cannot communicate without words and is dependent on breath and of course there is no breath without a speaker.
Here we find in the first few verses of Genesis The Speaker (The Father), The Word or Logos (Jesus the Son) and The Breath (The Holy Spirit) and John’s opening words in his Gospel express this in his using “Logos”. We can also see Paul expressing this in Acts 17:28 as he spoke to the Areopagus as he states, "for in Him we live and move and have our being,” for in Logos we have the expression of God giving Life through Jesus through creation and in the incarnation.
As we discovered in John’s Gospel, John used the word “Logos” and in its meaning we learn it means, “Word”. However, within the Greek culture we find it is more. It is the idea of an existence that was, is and ever will be. A deeper look at how “Logos” is used shows the word not as a singular idea of “word” but of “words”, as in a speech or to be so bold a conversation. There is a mystery that connects and this is the union of the Father and Son. They are in a loving conversation with each other.
Even before the beginning, within the Father was the Son as within the Speaker is the Words. As the Speaker spoke the words moved by the breath came out in words. Do not get me this wrong as this is not stating there is many Jesus’, rather grasping “Word” to mean “a speaker giving us an oration”. As the speaker (Speaker in this case) speaks we hear him say many words to convey the thought he has.
In Genesis God is deep in thought as He hovers over the waters. I believe that God saw not just His creation, or man’s potential, but that His thoughts were on the One He loved and that always has been His Son.
Entering the “Conversation”
With a closer look at the word “Logos” the realization that the relationship between the Father and Son was intimate and ongoing. In John 17:21-26 Jesus prays we are one as He and the Father are One. Jesus goes on to pray that believers also enter into this intimate conversation between humanity and Jesus. We relate to God through the humanity of Jesus at the same time we Jesus relates to God through Jesus’ divinity. Believers in turn have become the Bride of Christ and enter into this intimate relationship, thus allowing the conversation to enter us and us in it. In many ways, believers become again the image, the conversation, and word God spoke when He began creating in Genesis.
When the understanding of the power packed meaning of Logos becomes clear, it shows that Jesus Christ is greater than the best of Hebraic and Greek thinking. We find Logos becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us to share the light to all. This is the same light that God spoke at the beginning of all creation. With this fuller understanding of the concept of Logos, it becomes easier to see that Jesus was more than a man of history, but God in flesh in a purposeful mission to reconcile all back to God. It is through knowing who Jesus is, which allows us to enter and participate in the Conversation that started in “the beginning” and continues for eternity.
Asimov, Isaac. Asmov's guide to the Bible: The New Testament. New York: Equinox, 1969.
Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospels. Tennessee: B & H Publishing Group, 2009.
D.A.Carson. Exegetical Fallacies. Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1986.
Guthrie, W K C. 1952. "The pre-Socratic world-picture." Harvard Theological Review 45, no. 2: 87-104. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 30, 2012).
Marietta, Don E. "Conscience in Greek stoicism." Numen 17, no. 3 (December 1, 1970): 176-187. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 6, 2012).
Miller, Ed L. "The logos of Heraclitus: updating the report." Harvard Theological Review, no. no.2 (April 1981): 161-176.
Rendall, Gerald H. "Immanence, Stoic and Christian." Harvard Theological Review 14, no. 1 (January 1, 1921): 1-14. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 3, 2012).
Robinson, Marilynne. "Wisdom and light: John's prologue as midrash." Christian Century 129, no. 8 (April 18, 2012): 11-12. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 10, 2012).
Sweet, Leonard. Soul Tsunami. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.
Zimmerli. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol. IV. 7th. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, & Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 1981.