The Word (Logos)

The Logos (Part I)

John 1:1 is paramount to understanding the person of Christ. John begins introducing Jesus as the Word (Logos): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

The English term “Word” is translated from the Greek term “Logos.” John knew the term “Logos” would be widely recognized by the Greeks, especially their philosophers. For the Greek Philosophers, the “Logos”, as a concept “denoted something like the world-soul, the soul of the universe. It was an all-pervading principle, the rational principle of the universe. It was a creative energy. In one sense all things came from it, in another, people derived their wisdom from it.”[1] The idea of the Logos can be traced all the way back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus (sixth century B.C). He believed the Logos was “always in existence” and that “all things happen through this Logos.”[2] He also held the idea of the Logos accounting for the order in the “kosmos” and It being the principle of the universe that stabilized everything.[3]

Later, the Stoics developed a fuller concept of the Logos. Stoics believed the Logos gave the rationality (reason) of the universe. However, they did not believe the Logos to be a personal God. For the Stoics, “it was essentially a principle or force. But the important thing is that if it was a principle, it was the supreme principle of the universe. It was the force that originated and permeated and directed all things.”[4] In essence, the Greeks believed the Logos to be the “logic” or “reason” which brought harmony and order to the universe.

Although John was aware of the associations with the Logos, his thought of the term did not originate from the Greek.[5] The Gospel of John does not show acquaintance or dependence of the Greek conception of the Logos. According to Floyd V. Filson, there is no parallel. Filson writes, “in the Christian account the Son or Logos is linked with the historical Christ and not, as logic would lead us to expect, with the Spirit. This most notable difference is striking, but it is often overlooked. This fact shows that the Christians doctrine of the Spirit is not a borrowing from Stoic sources, either directly or indirectly, it derives from a historical career and its sequel, rather than from Greek philosophy.”[6] Furthermore, it is significant to understand that John pointing to Jesus as the Logos strikes a foundational Greek thought in their gods being detached from the world and lacking feeling.[7] How? John shows the Logos (Jesus) to be involved and personal by taking on human flesh and dwelling with man (John 1:14). Furthermore, the Logos (Jesus) entered the world with its agony and struggles so that “the world could be saved through him” (John 3:17).

So, why care about the Greek understanding of the Logos if John did not derive his thought from it? A.C. Headlam considers two reasons: “It enabled Christianity to express itself in terms of Greek thought” and “It enabled a Christian philosophy to be built up in harmony with current thought.”[8] For example: John’s first phrase “In the beginning was the Word (Logos),” unveils Jesus as being preexistent from eternity past to not only the Greeks in their idea of the Logos but also to the Hebrews in the phrase “In the beginning”, which echoes Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

The Biblical teaching of Jesus being preexistent is not only found in John 1:1 but also in other books of the New Testament. For example: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) and “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked up and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life-” (1 John 1:1). Moreover, the Book of Revelation reveals Jesus to be “the Alpha and Omega” and “the first and last” (Revelation 1:8,17). Jesus’ preexistence ultimately points to the person of Christ being divine.

Second, the phrase “the Word (Logos) was with God” aims to show us that Jesus is a separate person within the Triune Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Jesus, the second person in the Godhead, was not alone in His preexistence but was with the Father. John writes “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2). In addition, In the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prays “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the existence of the world” (John 17:5). The beautiful significance of this truth is that the preexistent Logos is personal, which was contrary to the thought of the Greeks.

Lastly, John’s final phrase “and the Word (Logos) was God” points to Jesus as fully God. Since the previous phrase shows the Word (Logos) with God – revealing it as separate (rather than using the word “it” revealing a separate identity) – many would then conclude the Logos to not be God. However, John makes clear that just because the Logos was with God, this by no means makes Him less than God. In fact, “the Word (Logos) was God.” Therefore, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is God. James Montgomery Boice writes, “This means that everything that can be said about God the Father can be said about God the Son. In Jesus dwells all the wisdom, glory, power, love, holiness, justice, and goodness, and truth of the Father. In him, God the Father is known.”[9]  Moreover, Jesus even tells Philip “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and the author of Hebrews makes clear that “[Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of [God’s] nature and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).

[1] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John (Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1995), p. 102

[2] James Adam, The Religious Teachers of Greece (Edinburgh, 1909), p. 217

[3]Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 102

[4] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 103

[5] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 103

[6] Floyd V. Filson, The New Testament against its Environment [London, 1950], p. 90

[7] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 104

[8] A.C. Headlam, Christian Theology [Oxford, 1934], p. 333

[9] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: Volume 1 The Coming of the Light John 1-4, (Michigan: Grand Rapids, 2000), p. 22

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