With your indulgence, I’m going to repost a set of three studies on Jesus Christ as the Logos of God. They are a bit long, but hopefully useful.
It may sound somewhat unseemly for anyone to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as “the Logos of God,” but to conceive of Him (momentarily) in this abstract way opens up new lines of inquiry that are harder to see under His personal name. And, after all, the Apostle John was the first to do it.
If one comes to the term “Logos” with the mindset of the ancient Greek philosophers, the best thing that could be extracted from the prologue to John’s Gospel would be a personification but not a Person. But clearly John is not content with a personification. He has something extremely profound in mind; something that I believe provides a helpful fillip for a fully Christo-doxological motif.
Before we can expound a motif we must clear away the mound of misunderstandings that has been built up over the meaning of John’s Logos.
- Meaning of the Term
The basic meaning of the word logos in Greek may be summarized as, “the expression of thought – not the mere name of an object – (a) as embodying a conception or idea, (b) a saying or statement, (c) discourse, speech, of instruction etc.”[i] Thus, the idea of rationality, of a reasoned message of some sort, is central to the term.[ii] Yet, at first glance it seems far from clear why the Apostle chose this designation.
It is clear that the concept of the Divine Logos that one encounters in the opening verses of John’s Gospel is of great importance to his doctrine of Christ. The main verses are given below:
In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word [Logos] was with God, and the Word [Logos] was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were created by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)
He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. (John 1:10).
And the Word [Logos] was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld Him… (John 1:14a).
No man hath seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten Son,[iii] which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. (John 1:18).
I have isolated these verses, not because the other verses in the Prologue (vv. 1-18) are unimportant, but solely for the purpose of definition. These are the essential verses for the Logos teaching. We see a connection between the Word and God, the created order, and man.[iv] Clearly, in these passages John is very deliberately linking the Logos who became Christ in the flesh with the Creator God. We know that the Christ was named “Jesus” at the time of His birth (Lk. 2:21). But John is reaching far back before the creation to the relationship of the Logos/Son with God the Father from everlasting (Jn. 1:1-2, 18; cf. 17:5). Therefore, John is facing us with the implication that He who was to be known as Jesus of Nazareth in “the days of His flesh,” is the eternal Logos or Word of God. It is made clear that three great pillars of the Christian world and life view, Creation (1:1, 3), Revelation (1:4, 9, 14, 17-18), and Redemption (1:12-13), are bound to His Person. But we must turn to the question of ancient parallels before exploring these things further.
- The Uses of Logos in the Ancient World
The use of the word Logos – rendered “Word” in our better translations[v], naturally brings up the question of why the Apostle, under the Spirit’s direction, employed it. To our modern ears it sounds strange, if not a bit abstruse. In fact, the sense of enigma only increases once we begin to study the word and its ancient usages. The different ways logos was used as a technical term has given rise to much speculation as to just whom John was influenced by when he penned the Prologue to his Gospel.
From about the 6th Century B.C. the Greeks, beginning with Heraclitus, started to give logos a special philosophical nuance in their descriptions of reality. For example, Heraclitus made it function as “the stabilizing, directing principle of the universe.”[vi] The Logos was conceived of as the explanatory concept of the universe; “the rational power of calculation in virtue of which man can see himself and his place in the cosmos.”[vii] That is, it functioned as the final principle of intelligibility. Stoicism would later teach that it stood for that which gives the cosmos its shape and substance. In other words, keeping in mind the fundamental connection with rationality, the Greek philosophers found Logos most suitable to describe the organizing power of the phenomenal world.[viii] With the Stoics one finds a differentiation between the logos principle which interpenetrated even non-rational matter to give it form, also imparting the power of reason to humans: the so-called logos spermatikos or seminal reason, and the source of all morality and reason in living in the world: the orthos logos.[ix] Furthermore, this idea of the organizing Logos was still current at the time the Apostle John wrote his Gospel[x], although it had undergone some transformation by then.[xi]
Other scholars point to the grand eulogy of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31, a passage which still has advocates who see in it a prediction of Christ.[xii] But this connection has its problems. For one thing, the figure of Wisdom in Proverbs is feminine. And for another, the Septuagint, which has been followed by most modern versions, says, “The Lord made me [in] the beginning of his ways for his works. He established me before time was in the beginning, before he made the earth.” (Prov. 8:22-23, LXX); a translation which was used by Arius to prove that Christ was a created being![xiii] When passages like this are joined with those from wisdom writings of intertestamental times, some see a possible association with the Prologue.[xiv]
But the association should be treated with caution due to the fact that “Wisdom” (a feminine noun), though personified, is never actually personalized. What is more, as Boice notes, “any serious personalization would be radically alien to the prevailing Jewish perspective which saw Wisdom as inseparable from the Torah (1 Baruch 4:1, 2; cf. Sirach 19: 20-22).”[xv] Besides, the picture in the apocrypha of Wisdom as a “stern warrior” leaping down from heaven (Wisdom of Solomon 18:15; cf. 9:1; 16:12), hardly encourages one to tie this in with the Apostle’s themes.[xvi] Finally, in Sirach 24:9 Wisdom is said to be created, thus echoing (or influencing) the LXX of Proverbs 8:22-23.
Still others equate the Logos of John with a strong Platonic[xvii] influence, though mediated through Philo – a contemporary of John. Philo’s interpretation of Plato involved the bridging of the platonic separation of the real spiritual realm – the realm of pure ideas, or forms, from the physical realm in which we live. Although he used the term logos in a variety of ways, the two most important were combined in the role of intermediary. Dennis Johnson tells us that “[a]t times in Philo, logos stands for the word by which God created the world (Op. Mund. 20-25). At other times it refers to a mediator between the ideal and the phenomenal.”[xviii]
As mediator, the Logos was, “the means by which the mind apprehends God.”[xix] Philo placed so much emphasis upon God’s transcendence that the concept of the Logos was necessary to bridge the gap between God (in the Ideal realm) and men (in the phenomenal world).[xx] Guthrie notices five things in connection with Philo’s logos doctrine:
- Philo’s logos was impersonal. While all admit that Philo personified the logos (see below); it was not his intention to lend it the status of actual personhood.
- The logos was protogonos huios, God’s “first-born son,” and, “the eldest and most akin to God.” As such the logos was pre-existent, yet no more than a “power” of God.
- Philo does not link light and life to his logos.
- Philo’s logos belonged completely to the world of Ideas, and could not become incarnated in this lower material realm.[xxi]
- Nevertheless, the logos performed, “a mediatorial function to bridge the gap between the transcendent God and the world.”[xxii]
These facts make it unlikely that John concerned himself overmuch with his Alexandrian contemporary. It should also be borne in mind that Philo’s logos represented the faculty of reason in humans as well as in God.[xxiii] When one considers the way in which the later Alexandrians, especially Clement, used Philo to develop their logos doctrine, it seems highly unlikely that John would have used him as his starting-point. Of that logos-theory Herman Dooyeweerd wrote,
It conceived of the divine creating Word (Logos) as a lower divine being which mediates between the divine unity and impure matter. The Alexandrian school thereby actually transformed the Christian religion into a high ethical theory, into a moralistically tinged theological and philosophic system, which as a higher gnosis was placed above the faith of the Church.[xxiv]
There is too much in John which contravenes Philo, and too much in Philo to derail the Christian community.[xxv] We therefore believe that at best John gave the celebrated Jew a nod of acquaintance and thought little more about it. (more…)