Penned in 2002 at 84 years of age
What is today's significance of John's use of the word LOGOS as found in his Gospel, John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word (LOGOS), and the Word (LOGOS) was with God, and the Word (LOGOS) was God?
He continues in John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us..." and, in so writing, gave us the great truth of the incarnation. Other than that, we know little of the fullness of this Greek word LOGOS apart from the research of scholars who have investigated the Greek meaning of the word as John would have used it in the day in which he lived and wrote. Two of the Gospels give a genealogy of Jesus, i.e. Matthew and Luke, established on the Hebrew record back to God's creation of Adam. Mark gives no genealogy but refers in his opening verse to “the prophets”, i.e. the inspired record in Jewish history of the dealings of God with His ancient people.
None of the above would have particular significance to the Grecian audience who based their beliefs on their philosophers without any reference whatever to Hebrew history, particularly from the viewpoint of it being an answer to the origin of the universe and of the deep questions concerning man himself.
This must have exercised the mind of Paul when he went to such Grecian audiences as recorded in Acts 17. He would know that his message to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, recorded in Acts 13, would have no relevance to the Greeks of Athens. Therefore he must find another approach. He immediately appeals to the fact of creation in Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. He then makes reference to one of their own prophets and reasons that therefore gods of silver and gold, graven by art and man's device, cannot be an image of the living God. Acts 17:29 Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man's design and skill.
Athens is not regarded as one of the great missionary conquests of the Apostle Paul. However the fact that certain men believed and that others said in Acts 17:32 ..."We want to hear you again on this subject." shows the effectiveness of his approach to the Grecian audience as opposed to the usual Hebrew approach which could reliably be on the basis of history and prophetic revelation.
Before proceeding with this brief study into the word LOGOS, we might ask ourselves whether we have any modern parallels. In the western world, we have practically a new culture compared to fifty years ago which is permeated with many philosophical ideas and occult practices that would make a given audience at a public gathering for general interest, in broad religious concepts, almost a parallel of Athens long ago. It may be that we would be well advised to study John's concept of the LOGOS. We would define LOGOS as the life-giving principle that permeates all things.
Barclay quotes Plato as saying that it was God's LOGOS which kept the planets on their courses and brought back the seasons and the years in their appointed times. The Stoics who were prominent at Athens (Acts 17) stated that “the times, the seasons, the tides, the stars in their courses were ordered by the LOGOS. It was the LOGOS that put sense into the world”.
The Stoics also stated that the mind of man himself was a little portion of this LOGOS, stating further that reason is nothing else than a part of the Divine Spirit immersed in the human body.
Seneca, a Roman statesman and philosopher, 65AD, perhaps building on the ideas of the earlier Greeks, said, “It was the LOGOS which put sense into the universe and sense into man, and this LOGOS was nothing other than the mind of God”.
William Barclay then introduces Philo of Alexandria. This man was a Jew who was a contemporary of the times of Jesus. He is recorded in 40AD as being a member of a Jewish deputation who met the Roman Emperor concerning Jewish persecution. He was one of the early minds attempting to bridge Greek philosophy and Jewish morality. His concept of the divine Word or LOGOS unites Greek and Hebrew ideas, combining the universal permeation and the exclusiveness which produced the Jewish nation and ultimately the Messiah. In Philo, we have a Jew who is a Christian, developing the LOGOS so that prejudice against Greek philosophers is removed and the LOGOS made worthy of investigation.
The idea of the LOGOS being a universal expression of all things need not produce any fear of Pantheism because, in that teaching, all creation is god, making no distinction between the creation and its Creator, thus lending itself to the worship of individual parts of Creation, i.e. mountains, trees, holy places, rivers etc. When John used LOGOS to interpret Christ, he was already proof from Pantheism, being an orthodox Jew instructed in the unity of the Godhead.
Furthermore we need not be afraid of the statement of the Stoics, “The mind of man is himself a little portion of the LOGOS”, as impinging on the doctrine of the fall of man. The fact that all humans, sinner and saint alike, live because of the breath of life from God which is in their nostrils, makes them all a part of God’s creatorship but does not bring them salvation which must be by the new birth through faith alone in Jesus Christ. John 1:9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
While to John is reckoned the discovery of the LOGOS, there is no doubt that Paul knew of this revelation by his words in Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Phillips translation says it like this - “He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation.” The Amplified says it like this - “By Him all things cohere or are held together.”
The Hebrew epistle leaves no doubt in the words of Heb 1:3 The Son is the radiance
of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful
Acts 17:28 'For in him we live and move and have our being.'
When these words are compared with the foregoing statements of Plato, Seneca and the Stoics, we have a remarkable similarity even though they are each coming from a different source.
It is readily agreed that the above Scriptures refer to Christ’s power in His Church but the Colossian epistle repeats the words, “all things” four times. Col 1:16-17 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. undoubtedly having reference to the totality of Creation.
Christ is still the LOGOS that John saw and understood. Whereas the Greeks’ understanding was largely philosophical dreams, in Christ they become concrete reality and help us to move from the sometimes limited idea of sanctuary living into the dominion of the market place and world domination. The LOGOS is not confined to some constructed idea of what is spiritual and what is not.
Our concepts of Jesus Christ have been circumscribed by creeds and formulas, all of which were necessary at the time to combat Arianism, Gnosticism and such like errors and are still necessary as occasion demands. However we suggest that an investigation into the great truths of the LOGOS would produce a more positive result in meeting the mind of our day.
Someone has said, “If you say ‘Yes’ to Jesus, the universe will say ‘Yes’ to you”. (author unknown)
Before thinking about possible errors concerning that statement, let us ask first of all, “Is there any relationship between Jesus and the universe?” The answer is, of course, “yes”. John 1:3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Let’s go back to Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. The connection between Jesus and the universe is total and complete. What other evidence is there that the LOGOS, Christ Himself, applies to all mankind and all matter?
Mark 1:13 and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Mark 4:41 They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
Luke 13:7-9 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'". This verse is cited as evidence of Christ’s knowledge of growth with all of the whole creation which He had made.
Isa 55:12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. says the prophet and, even though poetic, it spoke clearly of the creative universe responding to the spiritual blessing of the Creator God (Jesus) upon His people.
If the ancient philosophers and thinkers stumbled on the truth in their concepts of the LOGOS, would it be irreverent to say that Jesus keeps the planets in their courses and brings back the seasons and the years in their appointed time?
In J.B.Phillips’ book, “Your God Is Too Small”, he explored many of the mean concepts we have of the risen Christ. We should not forget that Israel also limited the Holy One of Israel. Perhaps instead of shutting our eyes and trying to conjure up a big God in our finite imagination, we would do well to bravely consider the LOGOS and some of the light given by ancient thinkers to help us into, not an imaginary bigness, but a truly intellectual enlargement of who our Saviour Jesus Christ really is.
Bibliography:“New Testament Words”, Wm. Barclay. SCM Press Ltd., London 1964.