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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Logos

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LOGOS. In classical Greek logos signifies both ‘word’ and ‘reason,’ but in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] and the NT it is used, with few exceptions, in the former sense only. When it is God’s word that is spoken of, it denotes the declaration or revelation of the Divine will, and specifically the Christian gospel as the utterance of the Divine plan of salvation ( e.g . Matthew 13:19-23 ||, Philippians 1:14 ). But in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel ( John 1:1 [3 times] 14, with which cf. 1 John 1:1 [ 1 John 5:7 of AV [Note: Authorized Version.] is spurious; see RV [Note: Revised Version.] ] and Revelation 19:13 ) ‘ Logos ’ (EV [Note: English Version.] Word ) is applied to Jesus Christ, and is used to set forth His peculiar glory as the only-begotten Son of God, who is also the Life and Light of men. It is with this Johannine Logos that we have now to deal, and in doing so it seems necessary to consider (1) the content of John’s Logos doctrine; (2) its sources; (3) its place in the Fourth Gospel; (4) its theological significance.

1. Content. Three stages appear in the exposition of the Logos doctrine given in the Prologue. ( a ) First ( John 1:1-5 ), the nature and functions of the Logos are set forth in His relations to God, the world, and man. He was with God in the beginning, i.e . He eternally held a relation of communion with Him as a separate personality a personality itself Divine, for ‘the Word was God.’ As to the world , it was made by Him ( John 1:3 , cf. John 1:10 ), perhaps with the further suggestion that from Him it draws continually the life by which it is sustained ( John 1:4 ). But from Him there flows also the higher life of man as a spiritual being possessed of reason and conscience, for His life becomes the universal light of human souls ( John 1:4 , cf. John 1:9 ). ( b ) The second stage of the exposition ( John 1:5-13 ) is a contrast of the Logos with the word of God that came by John the Baptist. John was not the Light; he came only to bear witness of it. The Logos is the true Light, and the mediator of Divine life to all who believe on His name, ( c ) Finally ( John 1:14-18 ), the author describes the incarnation of the Logos in the flesh, and declares His identity with the historical Jesus Christ, the bringer of grace and truth. In John 1:18 the whole Prologue is summed up. Here the writer returns to the point from which he set out (cf. John 1:1 ), but his readers now understand that the eternal Logos is one with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2. Sources. (1) For these some have been content to refer to the OT and the post-canonical Jewish writings . And it is true that a connexion is clearly to be traced. We can hardly mistake a reference in the Prologue ( John 1:1 ; John 1:3-4 ; John 1:10 ) to the creative word of God in Genesis 1:1-31 . In the Psalms and Prophets, again, a personification of the word of Jehovah is common ( e.g . Psalms 33:6 , Isaiah 55:11 ). And in the Wisdom literature, both canonical and apocryphal, this personifying tendency is carried still further ( Proverbs 8:22-31 , Sir 24:1-34 ), though it is God’s Wisdom, not His Word, that becomes His representative, and a full personification of the Word does not meet us till we have reached a point in Jewish history where Greek influences have begun to make themselves felt ( Wis 9:1 ; Wis 16:12 ). All this, however, is very far from explaining the Johannine Logos doctrine. The most that can he said is that the doctrine of the Prologue reflects a tendency of Jewish thought, finding its roots in the OT, to conceive of the Divine self-revelation as mediated by the personified Wisdom or Word of Jehovah.

(2) Some have held that John’s Logos doctrine was derived entirely from the Judœo-Alexandrian philosophy , and specifically from the teaching of Philo. From early times there had grown up among the Greeks a conception of the Logos as the Divine Reason manifested in the universe, and explaining how God comes into relation with it. To this Logos philosophy Plato’s doctrine of ideas had contributed, and afterwards the Stoic view of the Logos as the rational principle of the universe. In his efforts to blend Judaism with Hellenism, Philo adopted the term as one familiar alike to Jews and to Greeks, and sought to show by means of allegorical interpretations that the true philosophy of God and the world was revealed in the OT. And St. John, it is supposed, simply appropriated this teaching, and by means of an idealizing treatment of Christ’s life constructed in his Gospel a philosophical treatise on the doctrine of Philo. The theory breaks down on any examination. To Philo the Logos was the principle of Reason; to St. John He was the Divine revealing Word. Philo’s Logos is not really personal; St. John’s certainly is. Philo does not identify the Logos with the Messiah; to St. John He is no other than the Christ, the Saviour of the world. Philo sees in the flesh a principle opposed to the Godhead; St. John glories in the fact of the Incarnation. With Philo the antithesis between God and the world is a metaphysical one; with St. John it is ethical and religious. St. John cannot, then, have derived his doctrine of the Logos from Philo. But he undoubtedly used the term because Philo had made it familiar to Græco-Jewish thought as a means of expressing the idea of a mediation between God and the universe, and also because he himself had received certain formal influences from the Philonic philosophy (see, e.g ., the value be assigns to knowledge; his crystallization of the gospel into such general terms as light,’ ‘truth,’ ‘life’; his constant antithesis of light and darkness). Apart, however, from such formal influences and the convenience of a familiar and suggestive term, the real source of the Johannine logos doctrine is still to seek.

(3) That source is assuredly to be found in the actual historical personality of Jesus Himself as we find it set forth in the rest of this Gospel. More and more it becomes impossible for the careful student of this book to treat it as a philosophical romance in which a purely idealizing treatment is given to the figure of Jesus; more and more the substantial historical truth of the presentation becomes evident. And, assuming the substantial truth of the narrative, it seems clear that St. John uses his Logos conception, not ‘to manufacture the Light of the World out of the Messiah of Israel,’ but to set forth, in a way that would appeal to the men of his own place and time, Christ’s real relations to God and the universe as these had been attested by His words and deeds, by His dying and rising from the dead, and by all the facts of His self-revelation. We must bear in mind, moreover, that while the term ‘Logos’ was a new one to be applied to Christ, the place of dignity and power assigned to Him by John was by no means new. Both St. Paul and the author of Hebrews had taught the doctrine of Christ’s eternal Sonship, and of His functions as the creator of the universe and the revealer of the Father ( Philippians 2:5-11 , Colossians 1:13-20 ; Colossians 2:9 , Hebrews 1:1-4 ), and the teaching of both, already familiar and widely accepted in the Church, is subsumed in the Johannine doctrine of the Logos.

3. Place in the Fourth Gospel. The attempt has been made to distinguish between the Logos doctrine in the Prologue as Hellenic, and the Gospel itself as Palestinian; and it has been maintained that the influence of the Logos idea does not extend beyond the Prologue, and that it was merely intended to introduce to Greek readers the story of the Jewish Messiah with a view to making it more attractive and intelligible. We may remind ourselves, however, of Strauss’s comparison of this Gospel to the seamless robe of Jesus, a judgment which has been verified by nearly every critical student of whatever school. It is true that when we pass beyond the Prologue the word ‘Logos’ is not repeated. The author nowhere puts it into the mouth of Jesus, one evidence surely of his historical fidelity. But, all the same, the doctrine of the Prologue manifestly works right through the narrative from beginning to end (see such passages as John 3:13-21 ; John 6:53-58 ; John 7:28-29 ; John 8:12 ; John 8:14 ; John 8:16 ; John 10:29 ff; John 12:44-50 ; John 14:6-11 ; John 17:5 ; John 17:8 ; John 17:24 etc.). It is very noticeable that in John 20:31 , where, before laying down his pen, the writer reveals the motive of his work, he really sums up the great ideas of the Prologue as he declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life through His name. The Logos, then, is not a mere catchword, put forth in order to seize the eye and arouse the interest of the Greek reader. The Logos idea underlies the whole Gospel, and has much to do with the author’s selection of his materials. In the Prologue, as in any other well-written introduction, the plan of the work is set out, and the Logos doctrine is stated there because it supplies the key to a right understanding of the history that follows.

4. Theological significance. From the time of Justin, and ever since, the Logos doctrine of St. John’s Prologue has served as the material of many a Christian metaphysic. It is no doubt inevitable that this should be the case; but we must be careful not to make St. John responsible for the theological constructions that have been woven out of his words. If an injustice is done him when his doctrine of the Logos is supposed to be nothing more than the fruitage of his study of Philo, another injustice is committed when it is assumed that he is setting forth here either a metaphysic of the Divine nature or a philosophy of the Incarnation. It is plain, on the contrary, that in all that he says it is the religious and ethical interests that are paramount. He uses the Logos conception for two great purposes, to set forth Jesus (1) as the Revealer of God , and (2) as the Saviour of men . The first of these ideas, as has been said, is one that we find already in the Pauline Epistles and in Hebrews; but by his emphasis on the relations of Fatherhood and Sonship St. John imparts a peculiarly moral meaning to the essential nature of the God who is revealed in Christ. But it is above all for a soteriological purpose that he seems to employ the Logos idea. The Logos, who is Identified with Jesus Christ, comes forth from the bosom of the Father, bringing life and light to men. He comes with a gospel that supersedes the Law of Moses, for it is a gospel of grace as well as of truth. Himself the Son of God, He offers to all who will believe on His name the right to become the children of God. And so, while the Logos is undoubtedly the agent of God’s creative will, He is still more distinctively the mediator of God’s redeeming purpose. It is therefore as a religious power, not as a metaphysical magnitude, that St. John brings Him before us. The Evangelist shows, it is true, as Kirn points out, that the absoluteness of Christ’s historical mission and His exclusive mediation of the Divine saving grace are guaranteed by the fact that the roots of His personal life reach Back into the eternal life of God. His Logos doctrine thus wards off every Christology that would see in Jesus no more than a prophetic personality of the highest originality. But, while the Logos idea ‘illuminates the history with the light of eternity, it can reveal eternity to us only in the ligbt of history, not in its own supernatural light’ ( PRE [Note: RE Real-Encykl. für protest. Theol. und Kirche] 3 xi. 605).

J. C. Lambert.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Logos'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/l/logos.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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