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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Word

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The English substantive ‘word’ is used in the RV to translate two Greek originals, λόγος and ῥῆμα. Of these λόγος is by far the more common, occurring 194 times in the NT, excluding the Gospels. In 153 of these it is translated ‘word’; in the remainder it has a rather wider significance, e.g. ‘treatise’ (Acts 1:1), ‘matter,’ ‘reason,’ or ‘account’ (Acts 8:21; Acts 10:29; Acts 15:6; Acts 18:14; Acts 19:38; Acts 19:40; Acts 20:24, Romans 14:12, Philippians 4:15; Philippians 4:17, Hebrews 4:12; Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13 :1 Peter 3:15; 1 Peter 4:5). It is used generally to mean ‘speech’ or ‘utterance’ (Acts 14:12; Acts 20:2, 1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 14:9, 2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:6, Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:6). In Acts 11:22 it is translated ‘report,’ in Colossians 2:23 ‘show’ (i.e. ‘pretext’). In Acts 6:5; Acts 7:29, 1 Corinthians 15:54, 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Timothy 4:9, 2 Timothy 2:11, Titus 3:8 it is translated ‘saying.’ In the last five of these passages the phrase is the same, ‘faithful is the saying’ (πιστὸς ὁ λόγος), which seems to refer to a quotation from a Christian hymn or from some recognized liturgical formula.

Clement uses λόγος 11 times. In 9 of the passages it is simply equivalent to ‘word’ in the ordinary sense. But he twice introduces a quotation from the OT with the phrase ‘For the holy λόγος says’ (ad Cor. 13, 56), and there the sense seems to approach closely to that attached to the word in the quotations from the Pastoral Epistles given above, i.e. a statement of recognized authority.

λόγος is found three times in the Didache and twice in the Epistle of Barnabas. But in neither of these writings is it employed in any way which cannot be paralleled from the NT.

Ignatius has it three times (Magn. viii., Rom. ii, Smyrn. inscr.). In the first of these he refers to our Lord as the Word of God; in the second he calls himself a ‘Word of God,’ meaning that his life and death are a testimony which is not to be interfered with by his friends. He greets the church of Smyrna as being ‘in the Word of God,’ where the λόγος is conceived as the inward monitor which directs the Christian’s life (cf. J. B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, pt. ii. [1889] vol. ii. p. 288).

Outside the Gospels ῥῆμα is found only in 29 passages of the NT, 14 of these being in Acts. It is always translated ‘word’ in the RV except in Acts 5:32 (‘things’) and Acts 10:37 (‘saying’). Of the 15 passages in which it occurs elsewhere six are quotations from the OT. It is used once by Clement (ad Cor. 30) in a quotation from Job 11:2-3. It is not found in the Didache, Ep. Barn., or Ignatius. There is nothing in its use by the NT writers which calls for special comment.

In many passages of the NT no special significance attaches to λόγος. It means simply ‘that which is said.’ But ‘the Word,’ or ‘the Word of God,’ or ‘the Word of the Lord’ is frequently used in a semi-technical sense for the content of the message which the Church is charged to deliver. Thus in Acts 4:29 the infant Church prays for courage to speak ‘thy word’ with boldness in the face of persecution. In Acts 6:2 the apostles refuse to forsake ‘the word of God’ to serve tables. After the appointment of the deacons ‘the word of God increased.’ It is unnecessary to multiply examples of this usage. In Acts 16:36 λόγος is used of the message sent by the magistrates at Philippi to St. Paul’s jailer. We find it combined with a number of different substantives: e.g. ‘grace’ (Acts 14:3; Acts 20:32), ‘exhortation’ (Acts 13:15, Hebrews 13:22), ‘salvation’ (Acts 13:26), ‘promise’ (Romans 9:9), ‘the Cross,’ i.e. the gospel of the Crucified Saviour (1 Corinthians 1:18), ‘wisdom and knowledge’ (1 Corinthians 12:8), ‘truth’ (2 Corinthians 6:7, Ephesians 1:13, Colossians 1:5, 2 Timothy 2:15, James 1:18), ‘the word of Christ’ (Colossians 3:16), ‘life’ (Philippians 2:16, 1 John 1:1), ‘hearing’ (Hebrews 4:2), ‘righteousness’ (Hebrews 5:13), ‘oath’ (Hebrews 7:28), ‘prophecy’ (Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:9-10; Revelation 22:18-19; cf. the προφητικὸς λόγος of 2 Peter 1:19), ‘patience’ (Revelation 3:10), ‘testimony’ (Revelation 12:11). ‘Word’ is contrasted with ‘power’ or ‘reality’ in 1 Corinthians 4:20, 2 Corinthians 10:11, Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 1 John 3:18. This distinction is common in writers of the classical period, e.g. Thucydides.

In most of these passages the meaning is a spoken message. The content is not precisely defined, and might vary a good deal from time to time. But λόγος is also applied to written documents. Thus the mention of the ‘word of promise’ in Romans 9:9 is followed by a quotation of the angels’ pledge to Abraham (Genesis 18:10). In 2 Peter 1:19 the whole corpus of the prophetic writings is summed up as the prophetic λόγος. In Galatians 5:14 the whole Law is said to be summed up in one λόγος, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ In 2 Timothy 1:13 the ‘pattern of sound words’ which the Apostle exhorts Timothy to hold may be presumed to be some definite doctrinal statement, of the nature of a creed. In Revelation 22 the phrase ‘the words of the prophecy of this book’ occurs 4 times, ‘the words of this book’ once, meaning the exact text which the writer has just completed. Thus as a rule ‘word’ in the NT means rather more than in current English. But the meaning is sometimes narrowed to the one customary among ourselves.

λόγος is personal in two passages in the apostolic writings: 1 John 1:1, where the author speaks of having seen and handled the Word of life; and Revelation 19:13, where it is said that the name of the crowned heavenly horseman ‘is called The Word of God.’ But any discussion of the Johannine Logosdoctrine lies outside the scope of this article.

In Hebrews 4:12 (‘For the word of God is living, and active,’ etc.) there is perhaps a slight approach towards a personification of the spoken or written Word. There is a somewhat similar metaphorical use of ῥῆμα in Ephesians 6:17 (‘Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’).

R. H. Malden.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Word'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/w/word.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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