A Word for Today: Word (Gk. Logos)
Brian Clatworthy, Newton Abbot, Devon, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In this new feature we will look at a number of selected Greek/Hebrew words found in the Bible. We will trace their historical development and then describe their meaning and usage in the scriptures. To avoid this being seen simply as an academic exercise, each article will conclude with a word of encouragement, comfort or challenge. Our intention is not only to educate the mind, but to affect the heart and ultimately the lives of God’s people, thereby enabling them to see the value of these words for today.
What better word then to start with than the Greek word lógos?
At its basic level, the word lógos was used by the ancient Greeks to indicate the vocal sounds of communication. Men communicated through words and expressed their ideas through the medium of both the spoken and written word. Predominantly, however, lógos became a term adopted by Greek philosophers to explain their under-standing of how the world was created. To the Greek mind, lógos was an effective cause, a creative or imper-sonal force through which everything came into existence. The lógos controlled the planets and the seasons, so preventing chaos in the universe. But these men were groping in the dark and had no real spiritual discernment. Their philosophy was empty deceit – see Col. 2. 8.
In the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) lógos translated the Hebrew word dobor, confirming that God’s word could be relied upon, as in Psalm 33 verses 6 and 9, and could not be thwarted, as in Psalm 147 verse 15. Such texts reveal that God’s lógos not only imparted truth, but was an active force in the world.
Lógos occurs in the New Testament in both a technical and non-technical sense. In its non-technical sense, it was commonly used throughout the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament period for ‘word’ or ‘saying’, both spoken and written. Generally in the New Testament both senses are found as evident in the phrase, ‘word of the kingdom’, Matt. 13. 19, of the sower sowing the ‘word’, Mark 4. 14, specifically of the ‘word of God’, Luke 8. 11 or in respect of the gracious words (sayings) of Christ Himself, Luke 4. 22. ABBOTT-SMITH indicates, that lógos was not used just to describe a word in a grammatical sense of a mere name, but a word as embodying a concept or idea, as in Matthew chapter 8 verse 8 (say ‘the word’) or in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 verse 9 (an intelligible ‘message’). It could also mean ‘reckoning’ in a monetary context as in the phrase, ‘I compare accounts, make a reckoning, Matt. 18. 23f; 25. 19. The apostle Paul uses it in a similar vein in Romans chapter 14 verse 12 and in Philippians chapter 4 verses 15 and 17, with reference to judgement. Lógos had a variety of meanings each dependent on the company that the word kept. So it was not a new word coined by New Testament writers, but was already heavily imbued with a cultural and philosophical backdrop.
We now turn to the technical use of the word lógos. When John uses this term in the ‘Prologue’ to his Gospel, John 1. 1-18, there would have been the inevitable danger of his readership thinking of the past connection with Greek philosophy. But ironically, as Leon Morris points out, ‘The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches, and joys and fears, with serene divine lack of feeling. John’s lógos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved’. Thus, through the Spirit of God, John disclaims the errors of Greek philosophy, and emphatically proclaims that the pre-existent lógos – who had brought all things into being and continued to sustain the universe, Col. 1. 16-17, had in truth become man, John 1. 14. God had entered human experience and thereby becomes the most important lógos for today! Who could fathom the depth of this glorious mystery that God in all His essential being, John 1. 1, limits Himself to a human body to redeem fallen humanity, Phil. 2. 2-8.
The fact that God has finally spoken in His Word means that believers today are tasked with communicating good news to a lost world. This will inevitably challenge us, not only in terms of how we should communicate, but our own personal relationship with the incarnate Word. We will need to personally
- Listen to the Word of God, Matt 13. 20; Acts 13. 7-44, which will then lead us to
- Obey the Word of God, 1 Sam: 15. 22; Rom 6. 17, and in so doing we will see the
- Glory of God in the face of the incarnate Word of God, 2 Cor 4. 6, and seek to
- Offer to Him all that we are, Rom. 12. 1; 2 Tim. 4. 6, so that we are found worthy to
- Suffer for His name - the lógos of God, Acts 5. 41. How appropriate then that John should use this term for our Lord Jesus Christ who so embodied the word of God in His life, Matt. 4. 4, being the Word of God incarnate, 1 John 1. 1-2.
For further reading/study
Moulton, Harold K. The Challenge of the Concordance – Some New Testament Words Studied in Depth.
Vine, W. E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
Brown, Colin. Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Kittel, G. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
Silva, Moisés, Biblical Words and their Meaning – An Introduction to Lexical Semantics.
AUTHOR PROFILE: He is an elder and active member of a pioneer assembly work in Newton Abbott. For many years he has been welcomed as a ministering brother in the south of England and has written a number of articles for the magazine. He is married and has two children.