(April 26, 2017) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, begins a series on selected Greek words…
Many of the words we use end in ‘ology,’ for example, theology, psychology, geology, etc. That suffix comes from the Greek word logos which means ‘word’ and it is one of the most theologically significant words in the Bible. To our way of thinking a ‘word’ is merely a building block which, when combined with others, becomes a means of communication. However in biblical understanding a word is so much more than that.
The noun logos is related to the verb laleo which means ‘to speak.’ It is significant that in the New Testament logos is used over 300 times: the KJV normally translates it as ‘word’ although it also uses other expressions such as ‘account’ and ‘speech.’ (Another Greek word that is translated ‘word’ is rhema but we shall not examine that here).
Let us consider the development of the word logos. First of all we have to remember that there is an indissoluble relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament, therefore the first significant influence on the meaning of logos is a Hebrew one. The Hebrew word for ‘word’ is dabar and for the Hebrews a dabar was a dynamic and active thing, that is to say, it actually made things happen. It set things in motion and could not be called back again. You can see that illustrated in the Genesis 27 where Isaac was unable to withdraw the blessing he had been deceived into giving to Jacob.
The power of the word is particularly seen in Genesis 1 where God spoke creation into being. We read there ‘God said …’ six times (1:9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and 26) and each time the power of the word was dynamically creative. Isaiah 55:11 God said, ‘… my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ Someone has expressed it this way, ‘The spoken word to the Hebrew was fearfully alive … It was a unit of energy charged with power.’
That briefly is the Hebrew background of the word that lies behind logos in the New Testament.
But there is also a Greek influence on the meaning of ‘word.’ The earliest record that we have of logos is 560 BC. when a philosopher called Heraclitus used it to describe the one who is in control of the universe and apart from whom everything would disintegrate into chaos. Heraclitus was saying there is a rational control, a logos, behind the universe. He also stated that we are able to discern right from wrong because of our ability to reason. And this ‘reason’ is the logos of God working in us. Logos, therefore, means ‘purpose’, ‘reason’ and, of course, ‘logic’ and it was considered to be a divine thing. I believe that God was at work behind all of this so that this powerful, illuminating word could be used with great significance when the New Testament was being written.
Behind the word logos we have, therefore, both Hebrew and Greek influences. Let us now see how they come dynamically together.
1. The logos and the Scriptures
Logos is used in the New Testament to refer to the scripture – the word of God. Yet though we may often use the phrase ‘word of God’ as an alternative to the word ‘scripture’ in the New Testament the phrase is infrequently used in that way. That is not to say that the scripture is not the word of God – indeed it is, and that can be demonstrated – but the word itself is not commonly used in the New Testament in that sense.
But there are a number of occasions in which the phrase ‘the word of God’ does refers to that special written revelation from God – more especially the Old Testament scripture. For example, in Mark 7: 13 Jesus accused the Pharisees, ‘You nullify the word of God by your tradition …’ Jesus was saying that they had rejected the word of God (particularly the Torah as mentioned in verse 9) and replaced it with their traditions.
This is a salutary warning for all Christians because the principles by which we live and order the life of our churches are often based on – ‘We’ve always done it this way’, rather than on the values that God has actually given to us in the Bible.
In Romans 9:6 NIV Paul wrote, ‘It is not as though God’s word had failed.’ He was declaring that the unbelief of his own people, the Israelites, did not mean that God’s promises in his word concerning that nation had failed. God’s word is ever true and ever dependable.
Also, Hebrews 4:12 states, ‘The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword’ (GNB). While some may argue that this is not a reference to the scriptures but to ‘the sword of the Spirit’ in Ephesians 6:17 or to the ‘two-edged sword’ that comes out of the mouth of Christ, mentioned in Revelation 1:16, nevertheless it is quite legitimate to include the interpretation that it is the written word of God.
The word of God, inscribed on paper and speaking to us through the Spirit, has the power to penetrate to the deepest parts of our being in conviction. Throughout the centuries the word of God has challenged, converted and changed countless millions of men and women. The logos of God speaks directly to the human situation.
2. The logos and the Message of Salvation
Logos is often used in the New Testament to refer to the Christian proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The phrase ‘the logos of God,’ or ‘the logos of the Lord,’ or simply ‘the logos,’ specifically refers to the Christian message as it was proclaimed.
- For example, we read that following Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost ‘… they that gladly received his word were baptised…’ (Acts 2:41)
- Also, when the church met together after the release of Peter and John from prison, they prayed, ‘… grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word’ (Acts 4:29).
- And Paul writes to the Thessalonians, ‘And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, welcoming the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit’ (1Thessalonias 1:6).
Sometimes the logos is further described as, ‘the word of the kingdom … of the cross … of life… of truth … of salvation.’ Whenever we share the good news about Jesus Christ with anyone, we are sharing the logos, the word from God which is able to bring forgiveness, peace with God and eternal life. So the logos is the message of salvation.
3. The logos and the Divine Principle of Creation
It was John who understood the potential of the word logos to help the Greek speaking world understand who Jesus Chris really was. John’s gospel opens with this verse, ‘In the beginning was the word (logos).’ He would have immediately got the attention of the world which had been impacted by Greek language, culture and philosophy. John was making at least two points in this phrase.
First, that the logos is not a created thing and that if we go right back to the beginning of all things, we find the logos. Rather than being part of creation, the logos is eternal.
Secondly, as I said earlier, the word logos means more than simply ‘word’ – it also means reason, purpose and divine principle. So John was stating that the existence of all things was dependent on the logos. To the Greeks that made sense because they believed that the divine principle was the power of God which created and sustained the universe. To the Hebrews it also made sense for they too believed that it was by the power of the word of God that the world was made – according to the teaching of their scriptures, and especially the first few chapters of Genesis.
This truth is one that we need to lay hold of today and not to compromise for there are those who maintain that the world came into being of its own accord, that at some point in the past – many millions of years ago, quite spontaneously – there was a ‘Big Bang’ which created the stars and planets and flung them into space; there is therefore no need to bring in the idea of a God of creation!
They argue that today we do not need to hold on to primitive beliefs to provide answers about the origins of the universe; science can provide better answers than superstition. This position, which is dismissive of the possibility of a God-created universe, reflects an arrogance, pseudo intellectualism and academic smugness. Ultimately there is no better answer to the question of the creation of the universe than the one we find in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 which say, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth … In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God!’
Some of the best scientific minds in the world have also accepted, or at least conceded, the possibility of directive intelligence behind the universe. Even Albert Einstein, who was not a Christian, believed that there had to be intelligence behind it all. The Bible reveals that the God, who brought the universe into existence, will also see it through to its conclusion for he is in control and he will never relinquish or delegate that control to another. It is quite popular today to use New Age/Feminist expression ‘Mother Nature.’
However, there is no Mother Nature! She has never existed and never will. There is no god of nature, there is only nature’s God, and he has revealed himself in his word.
4. The logos and the Person of Creation
John went further – he said that the logos was with God. By this is meant that there is the deepest intimacy of relationship between God and the one identified as the logos. And then John made this startling declaration – ‘The logos was God.’ The word was God! That was a startling thing to say to both Greeks and Jews. The Greeks would have been prepared to accept the concept that the logos was a principle or a power but not as Almighty God.
It is interesting to note in passing that contemporary heresies would agree with this proposition. The Jehovah Witnesses, for example, translate this John 1:1 in this way, ‘The word was a god,’ by which they mean that Jesus was not uniquely God, but no Greek scholar would agree with this translation for Greek grammar does not allow for it. The verse means that in every way the logos is truly God.
5. The logos and the Manifestation of that Person
John continued to push ahead with his argument. He stated in verse 14, ‘The logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ This statement was becoming mind-bending! John was saying that the eternal God himself, the one who created the universe, had stepped into that universe to live among us. The omnipresent, all powerful God, who is greater than the universe, incomprehensibly became a man. God paid us a personal visit.
This statement about God’s self-revelation in this way became probably the most controversial issue in the early church and gave rise to a number of heresies. But the amazing truth that we celebrate each Christmas is this – that the child who was born in Bethlehem was God in human form, Emmanuel, God with us. The Christmas miracle is encompassed in the word logos. The logos is the true God who made himself visible. ‘ … Who is the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15). Jesus said, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’
6. The logos and His Unique Identity
Having identified the logos with God, John, as it were, built up the suspense by withholding the name of that person until verse 36. The rest of the gospel then lifts Jesus high and glorifies him. Of the four gospels John particularly affirms that Jesus is God in emphatic and unambiguous ways. We note in passing that the grammatical structure of the seven ‘I am’ sayings in John’s gospel, (I am … the bread of life; the door of the sheep; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life; the light of the world; the way, the truth and the life; the true vine) indicate that Jesus is claiming the divine name of Yahweh (I AM) given to Moses in Exodus 3:14.
Also, in many passages in John’s gospel Jesus is seen affirming his deity by using the phrase ‘I am’ in a unique way. In Greek you can say, ‘I am’ by using just the verb eimi which contains within it the personal pronoun ‘I,’ but Jesus also included the specific personal pronoun ego which he attached to eimi . This is both grammatically and theologically significant as it means something like, ‘I myself am’ thus emphasising the divine name.
In this age of pluralism and political correctness there are many who say that there is no objective truth, that we must accept as true what others believe to be true, that we must accept the teachings of other religions as being as authoritative as Christianity, and a claim concerning the uniqueness of Jesus is both insensitive but intolerant.
Nevertheless followers of Jesus Christ need to make the claim concerning the uniqueness of Jesus even louder and clearer in these days. There is no one like Jesus. Furthermore, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). He himself claimed that he alone is the way, the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father apart from him (John 4:16). Dare we contradict him?
Jesus is the logos the Word of God. He is God!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
His new book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, has just been released and is available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org