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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Word

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Sometimes the Scripture ascribes to the word of God certain supernatural effects, and often represents it as animated and active: "He sent his word and healed them," Psalms 107:20 . It also signifies what is written in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament, Luke 11:28; James 1:22; the divine law which teaches and commands good things, and forbids evil, Psalms 119:101; and is used to express every promise of God, Psalms 119:25 , &c, and prophecy or vision, Isaiah 2:1 . This term is likewise consecrated and appropriated to signify the only Son of the Father, the uncreated Wisdom, the second Person of the most holy Trinity, equal to and consubstantial with the Father. St. John the evangelist, more expressly than any other, has opened to us the mystery of the Word of God, when he tells us, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made," John 1:1-3 . The Chaldee paraphrasts, the most ancient Jewish writers extant, generally make use of the word memra, which signifies "the Word," in those places where Moses puts the name Jehovah. They say, for example, that it was the Memra, or the Word, which created the world, which appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai, which gave him the law, which spoke to him face to face, which brought Israel out of Egypt, which marched before the people, and which wrought all those miracles that are recorded in Exodus. It was the same Word that appeared to Abraham in the plain of Mamre, that was seen of Jacob at Bethel, to whom Jacob made his vow, and acknowledged as God, saying, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, then shall the Lord be my God," Genesis 28:20-21 . The manner in which St. John commences his Gospel is strikingly different from the introductions to the histories of Christ by the other evangelists; and no less striking and peculiar is the title under which he announces him— "the Word." It has therefore been a subject of much inquiry and discussion, from whence this evangelist drew the use of this appellation, and what reasons led him, as though intending to solicit particular attention, to place it at the very head of his Gospel. That it was for the purpose of establishing an express opinion, as to the personal character of him it is used to designate, is made more than probable from the predominant character of the whole Gospel, which is more copiously doctrinal, and contains a record more full of what Jesus "said" than the others. As to the source from which the term Logos was drawn by the Apostle, some have held it to be taken from the Jewish Scriptures; others, from the Chaldee paraphrases; others, from Philo and the Hellenizing Jews. The most natural conclusion certainly appears to be, that, as St. John was a plain, "unlearned" man, chiefly conversant in the Holy Scriptures, he derived this term from the sacred books of his own nation, in which the Hebrew phrase, Dabar Jehovah, "the Word of Jehovah," frequently occurs in passages which must be understood to speak of a personal Word, and which phrase is rendered Λογος Κυριου [the word of the Lord] by the Septuagint interpreters. Certainly, there is not the least evidence in his writings, or in his traditional history, that he ever acquainted himself with Philo or with Plato; and none therefore, that he borrowed the term from them, or used it in any sense approaching to or suggested by these refinements:—in the writings of St. Paul there are allusions to poets and philosophers; in those of St. John, none, except to the rising sects afterward known under the appellation of Gnostics. The Hebrew Scriptures contain frequent intimations of a distinction of Persons in the Godhead; one of these Divine Persons is called Jehovah; and, though manifestly represented as existing distinct from the Father, is yet arrayed with attributes of divinity, and was acknowledged by the ancient Jews to be, in the highest sense, "their God," the God with whom, through all their history, they chiefly "had to do." This Divine Person is proved to have been spoken of by the prophets as the future Christ; the evangelists and Apostles represent Jesus as that Divine Person of the prophets; and if, in the writings of the Old Testament, he is also called the Word, the application of this term to our Lord is naturally accounted for. It will then appear to be a theological, not a philosophic appellation, and one which, previously even to the time of the Apostle, had been stamped with the authority of inspiration.

Celebrated as this title of the Logos was in the Jewish theology, it is not, however, the appellation by which the Spirit of inspiration has chosen that our Saviour should be principally designated. It occurs but a very few times, and principally and emphatically in the introduction to St. John's Gospel. A cogent reason can be given why this Apostle adopts it; and we are not without a probable reason why, in the New Testament, the title "Son of God" should have been preferred, which is a frequent title of the Logos in the writings also of Philo. Originating from the spiritual principle of connection, between the first and the second Being in the Godhead; marking this, by a spiritual idea of connection; and considering it to be as close and as necessary as the Word is to the energetic mind of God, which cannot bury its intellectual energies in silence, but must put them forth in speech; it is too spiritual in itself, to be addressed to the faith of the multitude. If with so full a reference to our bodily ideas, and so positive a filiation of the second Being to the first, we have seen the attempts of Arian criticism endeavouring to resolve the doctrine into the mere dust of a figure; how much more ready would it have been to do so, if we had only such a spiritual denomination as this for the second! This would certainly have been considered by it as too unsubstantial for distinct personality, and therefore too evanescent for equal divinity. One of the first teachers of this system was Cerinthus. We have not any particular account of all the branches of his system; and it is possible that we may ascribe to him some of those tenets by which later sects of Gnostics were discriminated. But we have authority for saying, that the general principle of the Gnostic scheme was openly taught by Cerinthus before the publication of the Gospel of St. John. The authority is that of Irenaeus, a bishop who lived in the second century, who in his youth had heard Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John, and who retained the discourses of Polycarp in his memory till his death. There are yet extant of the works of Irenaeus, five books which he wrote against heresies, one of the most authentic and valuable monuments of theological erudition. In one place of that work he says, that Cerinthus taught in Asia that the world was not made by the Supreme God, but by a certain power very separate and far removed from the Sovereign of the universe, and ignorant of his nature. In another place, he says that John the Apostle wished, by his Gospel, to extirpate the error which had been spread among men by Cerinthus; and Jerom, who lived in the fourth century, says that St. John wrote his Gospel, at the desire of the bishops of Asia, against Cerinthus and other heretics, and chiefly against the doctrines of the Ebionites, then springing up, who said that Christ did not exist before he was born of Mary.

"It appears," says Dr. Hill, "to have been the tradition of the Christian church, that St. John, who lived to a great age, and who resided at Ephesus, in Proconsular Asia, was moved by the growth of the Gnostic heresies, and by the solicitations of the Christian teachers, to bear his testimony to the truth in writing, and particularly to recollect those discourses and actions of our Lord, which might furnish the clearest refutation of the persons who denied his preexistence. This tradition is a key to a great part of his Gospel. Matthew, Mark, and Luke had given a detail of those actions of Jesus which are the evidences of his divine mission; of those events in his life upon earth which are most interesting to the human race; and of those moral discourses in which the wisdom, the grace, and the sanctity of the Teacher shine with united lustre. Their whole narration implies that Jesus was more than man. But as it is distinguished by a beautiful simplicity, which adds very much to their credit as historians, they have not, with the exception of a few incidental expressions, formally stated the conclusion that Jesus was more than man; but have left the Christian world to draw it for themselves from the facts narrated, or to receive it by the teaching and the writings of the Apostles. St. John, who was preserved by God to see this conclusion, which had been drawn by the great body of Christians, and had been established in the epistles, denied by different heretics, brings forward, in the form of a history of Jesus, a view of his exalted character, and draws our attention particularly to the truth of that which had been denied. When you come to analyze the Gospel of St John, you will find that the first eighteen verses contain the positions laid down by the Apostle, in order to meet the errors of Cerinthus; that these positions, which are merely affirmed in the introduction, are proved in the progress of the Gospel, by the testimony of John the Baptist, and by the words and the actions of our Lord; and that after the proof is concluded by the declaration of Thomas, who, upon being convinced that Jesus had risen, said to him, ‘My Lord, and my God,' St. John sums up the amount of his Gospel in these few words: ‘These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;' that is, that Jesus and the Christ are not distinct persons, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Apostle does not condescend to mention the name of Cerinthus, because that would have preserved, as long as the world lasts, the memory of a name which might otherwise be forgotten. But, although there is dignity and propriety in omitting the mention of his name, it was necessary, in laying down the positions that were to meet his errors, to adopt some of his words, because the Christians of those days would not so readily have applied the doctrine of the Apostle to the refutation of those heresies which Cerinthus was spreading among them, if they had not found in the exposition of that doctrine some of the terms in which the heresy was delivered; and as the chief of these terms, Logos, which Cerinthus applied to an inferior spirit, was equivalent to a phrase in common use among the Jews, ‘the Word of Jehovah,' and was probably borrowed from thence, John by his use of Logos rescues it from the degraded use of Cerinthus, and restores it to a sense corresponding to the dignity of the Jewish phrase."

The Logos was no fanciful term, merely invented by St. John, pro re nata, [according to circumstances,] or even suggested by the Holy Spirit, as a suitable title for a prophet by whom God chose to reveal himself or his Word. It was a term diversely understood in the world before St. John began his Gospel. Is it possible, therefore, that he should have used the term without some express allusion to these prevailing opinions? Had he contradicted them all, it would, of course, have been a plain proof, that they were all equally fabulous and fanciful; but by adopting the term, he certainly meant to show, that the error did not consist in believing that there was a Logos, or Word of God, but in thinking amiss of it. We might, indeed, have wondered much had he decidedly adopted the Platonic or Gnostic notions, in preference to the Jewish; but that he should harmonize with the latter, is by no means surprising; first, because he was a Jew himself; and, secondly, because Christianity was plainly to be shown to be connected with, and, as it were, regularly to have sprung out of, Judaism. It is certainly, then, in the highest degree consistent with all we could reasonably expect, to find St. John and others of the sacred writers expressing themselves in terms not only familiar to the Jews under the old covenant, but, in such as might tend, by a perfect revelation of the truth, to give instruction to all parties; correcting the errors of the Platonic and oriental systems, and confirming, in the clearest manner, the hopes and expectations of the Jews.

While the reasons for the use of this term by St. John are obvious, the argument from it is irresistible; for, first, the Logos of the evangelist is a person, not an attribute, as many Socinians have said, who have, therefore, sometimes chosen to render it wisdom. For if it be an attribute, it were a mere truism to say, that "it was in the beginning with God;" because God could never be without his attributes. The Apostle also declares, that the Logos was the Light; but that John Baptist was not the light. Here is a kind of parallel supposed, and it presumes, also, that it was possible that the same character might be erroneously ascribed to both. Between person and person this may, undoubtedly, be the case; but what species of parallel can exist between man and an attribute? Nor will the difficulty be obviated by suggesting, that wisdom here means not the attribute itself, but him whom that attribute inspired, the man Jesus Christ, because the name of our Saviour has not yet been mentioned; because that rule of interpretation must be inadmissible, which at one time would explain the term Logos by an attribute, at another by a man, as best suits the convenience of hypothesis; and because, if it be, in this instance, conceived to indicate our Saviour, it must follow, that our Saviour created the world, (which the Unitarians will by no means admit,) for the Logos, who was that which John the Baptist was not, the true Light, is expressly declared to have made the world. Again: the Logos was made flesh, that is, became man; but in what possible sense could an attribute become man? The Logos is "the only begotten of the Father;" but it would be uncouth to say of any attribute, that it is begotten; and, if that were passed over, it would follow, from this notion, either that God has only one attribute, or that wisdom is not his only begotten attribute. Farther: St. John uses terms decisively personal, as that he is God, not divine as an attribute, but God personally; not that he was in God, which would properly have been said of an attribute, but with God, which he could only say of a person; that "all things were made by him;" that he was "in the world;" that "he came to his own;" that he was "in the bosom of the Father;" and that "he hath declared the Father." The absurdity of representing the Logos of St. John as an attribute seems, at length, to have been perceived by the Socinians themselves, and their new version accordingly regards it as a personal term.

If the Logos be a person, then is he Divine; for, first, eternity is ascribed to him: "In the beginning, was the Word." The Unitarian comment is, "from the beginning of his ministry," or "the commencement of the Gospel dispensation;" which makes St. John use another trifling truism, and solemnly tell his readers, that our Saviour, when he began his ministry, was in existence! "in the beginning of his ministry the Word was!" It is true, that αρχη , "the beginning," is used for the beginning of Christ's ministry, when he says that the Apostles had been with him from the beginning; and it may be used for the beginning of any thing whatever. It is a term which must be determined in its meaning by the context; and the question, therefore, is, how the connection here determines it. Almost immediately it is added, "All things were made by him;" which can only mean the creation of universal nature. He, then, who made all things was prior to all created things; he was when they began to be, and before they began to be; and, if he existed before all created things, he was not himself created, and was, therefore, eternal. Secondly, he is expressly called God; and, thirdly, he is as explicitly said to be the Creator of all things. The two last particulars have often been largely established, and nothing need be added, except, as another proof that the Scriptures can only be fairly explained by the doctrine of a distinction of divine Persons in the Godhead, the declaration of St. John may be adduced, that "the Word was with God, and the Word was God." What hypothesis but this goes a single step to explain this wonderful language? Arianism, which allows the preexistence of Christ with God, accords with the first clause, but contradicts the second. Sabellianism, which reduces the personal to an official, and therefore a temporal, distinction, accords with the second clause, but contradicts the first; for Christ, according to this theory, was not with God in the beginning, that is, in eternity. Socinianism contradicts both clauses; for on that scheme Christ was neither with God in the beginning, nor was he God. "The faith of God's elect" agrees with both clauses, and by both it is established: "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." See UNITARIANS .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Word'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/w/word.html. 1831-2.

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