Dear Church Family,
In our Men’s and Women’s Discipleship Groups, we studied the Gospel according to John over the past year on Wednesday nights. At the end of the study, we decided to combine the Men’s and Women’s groups to answer specific questions that were submitted by those in the study.
The first question pertained to John’s use of the term “Logos” (translated as “Word”) in the first chapter of his Gospel: What is the significance of the word “Logos” as John employs it in his Gospel? This is an important question because the word is a common one, John uses it in a specific way in the prologue of his Gospel (John 1:1-18).
As a Jewish Christian who was writing in the midst of a Hellenistic society dominated by Greek thought, it would seem that John employs this term “Logos” in a way that would have resonated with both the Jew and the Greek. However, what John does with the word “Logos” is uniquely Christian.
“Logos” in the Old Testament
First, consider the Old Testament concept of the Logos. John begins this book in the same way that Moses began the book of Genesis. “In the beginning…” And when we think about the first chapter of Genesis, we remember that there is a phrase which is repeated 10 times in that chapter: “God said…” God used words to bring all things into existence. Thus, Logos is a creative power. It was by the Word of God that all things were created. Likewise, in the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37), God speaks and gives life to a bunch of skeletons. Thus, Logos is a creative and a re-creative (or rejuvenating) power.
In the book of Psalms, we also find that the Word of God is an illuminating power – “Thy Word,” declares the Psalmist, “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Likewise, in Proverbs, the Word (or Logos) is closely associated with wisdom. And so, Solomon writes, “My son, keep my words And treasure my commandments within you…Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ And call understanding your intimate friend” (Proverbs 7:1, 4).
“Logos” in Greek Thought
In Greek thought and philosophy, Logos was the thought or reason which a person possessed. But this thought or reason which was in man came from outside of himself and thus was universally shared by all men. “Logos” was thought of as something like the ‘world-soul’ or the ‘soul of the universe.’ “Logos” was a creative energy. All things came from it, and all people derived their wisdom from it. For the Greek, “Logos” was the unifying principle of the universe and gave expression to their deep conviction that the universe was a rational place.
Here’s how one commentator summarizes the Jewish and Greek thought in relation to the “Logos” – “The Logos alike for Jew and Gentile represents the ruling fact of the universe, and represents that fact as the self-expression of God. The Jew will remember that ‘by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made’; the Greek will think of the rational principle of which all natural laws are particular expressions. Both will agree that this Logos is the starting point of all things.” (William Temple, quoted in Leon Morris’ commentary, p 108)
“Logos” in the Gospel according to John
John draws on both of these ideas – both the Jewish and the Greek understanding of “Logos” – and he shows how the Logos is not a principle, but a Person. The Logos is Jesus, the Son of God. And, in John 1, the term “Logos” is used four times: (thrice in verse 1 and once in verse 14).
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In essence, John is saying something like this: “You may know something of the Logos – this creative word or unifying principle of the universe. But, you have failed to see the Logos for what it really is. The Logos is not some impersonal structure of thought from which creation or reason flows. The Logos is the Son of God, Who became flesh and dwelt among us!” It’s actually very similar to Paul’s argument in his sermon at the Areopagus in Athens recorded for us in Acts 17. Paul points to an altar that he found in Athens which bore the inscription, “To an unknown god.” And, he says, “What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” Just so, John basically says, “What you thought you knew as “the Logos” – is actually the eternal Word of God…the Son of God…Jesus the Christ.”
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch