International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. GREEK SPECULATION
II. HEBREW ANTICIPATION OF DOCTRINE
1. Word as Revelation of God
2. Suggestions of Personal Distinctions in Deity
III. ALEXANDRIAN SYNTHESIS
IV. CHRISTIAN REALIZATION
1. Pauline Doctrine
2. Doctrine in Hebrews
3. Doctrine in Fourth Gospel
(1) Content of Doctrine
(a) Relation of Logos to God
(b) Relation of Logos to World
(2) Origin of Terminology
(a) Hebrew Source
(b) Hellenic Source
(c) Contrast between Philo and John
V. PATRISTIC DEVELOPMENT
The doctrine of the Logos has exerted a decisive and far-reaching influence upon speculative and Christian thought. The word has a long history, and the evolution of the idea it embodies is really the unfolding of man's conception of God. To comprehend the relation of the Deity to the world has been the aim of all religious philosophy. While widely divergent views as to the Divine manifestation have been conceived, from the dawn of Western speculation, the Greek word logos has been employed with a certain degree of uniformity by a series of thinkers to express and define the nature and mode of God's revelation.
Logos signifies in classical Greek both "reason" and "word." Though in Biblical Greek the term is mostly employed in the sense of "word," we cannot properly dissociate the two significations. Every word implies a thought. It is impossible to imagine a time when God was without thought. Hence, thought must be eternal as the Deity. The translation "thought" is probably the best equivalent for the Greek term, since it denotes, on the one hand, the faculty of reason, or the thought inwardly conceived in the mind; and, on the other hand, the thought outwardly expressed through the vehicle of language. The two ideas, thought and speech, are indubitably blended in the term logos; and in every employment of the word, in philosophy and Scripture, both notions of thought and its outward expression are intimately connected.
In this article it will be our aim to trace the evolution of the doctrine from its earliest appearance in Greek philosophy through its Hebrew and Alexandrian phases till it attained its richest expression in the writings of the New Testament, and especially in the Fourth Gospel.
The doctrine may be said to have two stages: a Hellenistic and a Hebrew; or, more correctly, a pre-Christian and a Christian. The theory of Philo and of the Alexandrian thinkers generally may be regarded as the connecting link between the Greek and the Christian forms of the doctrine. The Greek or pre-Christian speculation on the subject is marked by the names of Heraclitus, Plato and the Stoics. Philo paves the way for the Christian doctrine of Paul, Hebrews and the Johannine Gospel.
I. Greek Speculation.
The earliest speculations of the Greeks were occupied with the world of Nature, and the first attempts at philosophy take the shape of a search for some unitary principle to explain the diversity of the universe.
Heraclitus was practically the first who sought to account for the order which existed in a world of change by a law or ruling principle. This profoundest of Greek philosophers saw everything in a condition of flux. Everything is forever passing into something else and has an existence only in relation to this process. We cannot say things are: they come into being and pass away. To account for this state of perpetual becoming, Heraclitus was led to seek out a new and primary element from which all things take their rise. This substance he conceived to be, not water or air as previous thinkers had conjectured, but something more subtle, mysterious and potent-fire. This restless, all-consuming and yet all-transforming activity-now darting upward as a flame, now sinking to an ember and now vanishing as smoke-is for him at once the symbol and essence of life. But it is no arbitrary or lawless element. If there is flux everywhere, all change must take place according to "measure." Reality is an "attunement" of opposites, a tension or harmony of conflicting elements. Heraclitus saw all the mutations of being governed by a rational and unalterable law. This law he calls sometimes "Justice," sometimes "Harmony"; more frequently "Logos" or "Reason," and in two passages at least, "God." Fire, Logos, God are fundamentally the same. It is the eternal energy of the universe pervading all its substance and preserving in unity and harmony the perpetual drift and evolution of phenomenal existence. Though Heraclitus sometimes calls this rational principle God, it is not probable that he attached to it any definite idea of consciousness. The Logos is not above the world or even prior to it. It is in it, its inner pervasive energy sustaining, relating and harmonizing its endless variety.
Little was done by the immediate successors of Heraclitus to develop the doctrine of the Logos, and as the distinction between mind and matter became more defined, the term nous superseded that of Logos as the rational force of the world. Anaxagoras was the first thinker who introduced the idea of a supreme intellectual principle which, while independent of the world, governed it. His conception of the nous or "mind" is, however, vague and confused, hardly distinguishable from corporeal matter. By the artificial introduction of a power acting externally upon the world, a dualism, which continued throughout Greek philosophy, was created. At the same time it is to the merit of Anaxagoras that he was the first to perceive some kind of distinction between mind and matter and to suggest a teleological explanation of the universe.
In Plato the idea of a regulative principle reappears. But though the word is frequently used, it is nous and not Logos which determines his conception of the relation of God and the world. The special doctrine of the Logos does not find definite expression, except perhaps in the Timaeus, where the word is employed as descriptive of the Divine force from which the world has arisen. But if the word does not frequently occur in the dialogues, there is not wanting a basis upon which a Logos-doctrine might be framed; and the conception of archetypal ideas affords a philosophical expression of the relation of God and the world. The idea of a dominating principle of reason was lifted to a higher plane by the distinction which Plato made between the world of sense and the world of thought, to the latter of which God belonged. According to Plato, true reality or absolute being consisted of the "Ideas" which he conceived as thoughts residing in the Divine mind before the creation of the world. To these abstract concepts was ascribed the character of supersensible realities of which in some way the concrete visible things of the world were copies or images. Compared with the "Ideas," the world of things was a world of shadows. This was the aspect of the Platonic doctrine of ideas which, as we shall see, Philo afterward seized upon, because it best fitted in with his general conception of the transcendence of God and His relation to the visible world. Three features of Plato's view ought to be remembered as having a special significance for our subject:
(1) While God is regarded by Plato as the intelligent power by which the world is formed, matter itself is conceived by him as in some sense eternal and partly intractable.
(2) While in the Philebus Plato employs the expression, "the regal principle of intelligence in the nature of God" nous basilikos en te tou Dios phusei), it is doubtful if reason was endowed with personality or was anything more than an attribute of the Divine mind.
(3) The ideas are merely models or archetypes after which creation is fashioned.
The doctrine of the Logos cannot be said to occupy a distinctive place in the teaching of Aristotle, though the word does occur in a variety of senses (e.g. orthos logos, "right insight," the faculty by which the will is trained to proper action). Aristotle sought to solve the fundamental problem of Greek philosophy as to how behind the changing multiplicity of appearances an abiding Being is to be thought by means of the concept of development. Plato had regarded the "ideas" as the causes of phenomena-causes different from the objects themselves. Aristotle endeavored to overcome the duality of Plato by representing reality as the essence which contains within itself potentially the phenomena, and unfolds into the particular manifestations of the sensible world. This conception has exerted a powerful influence upon subsequent thought, and particularly upon the monotheistic view of the world. At the same time in working it out, the ultimate "prime-mover" of Aristotle was not materially different from the idea of "the Good" of Plato. And inasmuch as God was conceived as pure thought existing apart from the world in eternal blessedness, Aristotle did not succeed in resolving the duality of God and the universe which exercised the Greek mind.
It is to the Stoics we must look for the first systematic exposition of the doctrine of the Logos. It is the key to their interpretation of life, both in the realms of Nature and of duty. Interested more in ethical than physical problems, they were compelled to seek general metaphysical basis for a rational moral life. Some unitary idea must be found which will overcome the duality between God and the world and remove the opposition between the sensuous and supersensuous which Plato and Aristotle had failed to reconcile. For this end the Logos-doctrine of Heraclitus seemed to present itself as the most satisfactory solution of the problem. The fundamental thought of the Stoics consequently is that the entire universe forms a single living connected whole and that all particulars are the determinate forms assumed by the primitive power which they conceived as never-resting, all-pervading fire. This eternal activity or Divine world-power which contains within itself the conditions and processes of all things, they call Logos or God. More particularly as the productive power, the Deity is named the logos spermatikos, the Seminal Logos or generative principle of the world. This vital energy not only pervades the universe, but unfolds itself into innumerable logoi spermatikoi or formative forces which energize the manifold phenomena of Nature and life. This subordination of all particulars to the Logos not only constitutes the rational order of the universe but supplies a norm of duty for the regulation of the activities of life. Hence, in the moral sphere "to live according to Nature" is the all-determining law of conduct.
II. Hebrew Anticipation of Doctrine.
So far we have traced the development of the Logos-doctrine in Greek philosophy. We have now to note a parallel movement in Hebrew thought. Though strictly speaking it is incorrect to separate the inner Reason from the outer expression in the term Logos, still in the Hellenistic usage the doctrine was substantially a doctrine of Reason, while in Jewish literature it was more especially the outward expression or word that was emphasized.
1. Word as Revelation of God:
The sources of this conception are to be found in the Old Testament and in the post-canonical literature. The God who is made known in Scripture is regarded as one who actively reveals Himself. He is exhibited therefore as making His will known in and by His spoken utterances. The "Word of God" is presented as the creative principle (Genesis 1:3 Psalm 33:6); as instrument of judgment (Hosea 6:5); as agent of healing (Psalm 107:20); and generally as possessor of personal qualities (Isaiah 55:2 Psalm 147:15). Revelation is frequently called the "Word of the Lord," signifying the spoken as distinct from the written word.
2. Suggestions of Personal Distinctions in Deity:
In particular, we may note certain adumbrations of distinction of persons within the Being of God. It is contended that the phrase "Let us make" in Genesis points to a plurality of persons in the God-head. This indefinite language of Genesis is more fully explained by the priestly ritual in Numbers (6:23-26) and in the Psalter. In Jeremiah, Ezra and the vision of Isaiah (6:2-8) the same idea of Divine plurality is implied, showing that the Old Testament presents a doctrine of God far removed from the sterile monotheism of the Koran (compare Liddon, Divinity of our Lord, and Konig).
Passing from these indefinite intimations of personal distinction in the inner life of God, we may mention first that series of remarkable apparitions commonly known as the theophanies of the Old Testament. These representations are described as the "Angel of Yahweh" or of "the Covenant"; or as the "Angel of his presence." This angelic appearance is sometimes identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:11, 13; Genesis 32:29-31 Exodus 3:2; Exodus 13:21), sometimes distinguished from Him (Genesis 22:15; Genesis 24:7); sometimes presented in both aspects (Exodus 3:6 Zechariah 1:11). We find God revealing Himself in this way to Abraham, Sarah, Lot, Hagar, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Manoah. Who was this angel? The earliest Fathers reply with general unanimity that He was the "Word" or "Son of God." But while the earlier church teachers distinguished between the "Angel of the Lord" and the Father, the Arians sought to widen the distinction into a difference of natures, since an invisible Being must be higher than one cognizable by the senses. Augustine insists upon the Scriptural truth of the invisibility of God as God, the Son not less than the Father. He will not presume, however, to say which of the Divine persons manifested Himself in this or that instance; and his general doctrine, in which he has been followed by most of the later teachers of the church, is that theophanies were not direct appearances of a Person of the Godhead, but self-manifestations of God through a created being.
A further development of the conception of a personal medium of revelation is discernible in the description of Wisdom as given in some of the later books of the Old Testament. The wisdom of Jewish Scripture is more than a human endowment or even an attribute of God, and may be said to attain almost to a personal reflex of the Deity, reminding us of the archetypal ideas of Plato. In Job, wisdom is represented as existent in God and as communicated in its highest form to man. It is the eternal thought in which the Divine Architect ever beholds His future creation (Job 28:23-27). If in Job wisdom is revealed only as underlying the laws of the universe and not as wholly personal, in the Book of Proverbs it is coeternal with Yahweh and assists Him in creation (Proverbs 8:22-31). It may be doubtful whether this is the language of a real person or only of a poetic personification. But something more than a personified idea may be inferred from the contents of the sapiential books outside the Canon. Sirach represents Wisdom as existing from all eternity with God. In Baruch, and still more in Wisdom, the Sophia is distinctly personal-"the very image of the goodness of God." In this pseudo-Solomonic book, supposed to be the work of an Alexandrian writer before Philo, the influence of Greek thought is traceable. The writer speaks of God's Word (me'mera') as His agent in creation and judgment.
Finally in the Targums, which were popular interpretations or paraphrases of the Old Testament Scripture, there was a tendency to avoid anthropomorphic terms or such expressions as involved a too internal conception of God's nature and manifestation. Here the three doctrines of the Word, the Angel, and Wisdom are introduced as mediating factors between God and the world. In particular the chasm between the Divine and human is bridged over by the use of such terms as me'mera' ("word") and shekhinah ("glory"). The me'mera proceeds from God, and is His messenger in Nature and history. But it is significant that though the use of this expression implied the felt need of a Mediator, the Word does not seem to have been actually identified with the Messiah.
III. Alexandrian Synthesis.
We have seen that according to Greek thought the Logos was conceived as a rational principle or impersonal energy by means of which the world was fashioned and ordered, while according to Hebrew thought the Logos was regarded rather as a mediating agent or personal organ of the Divine Being. The Hellenistic doctrine, in other words, was chiefly a doctrine of the Logos as Reason; the Jewish, a doctrine of the Logos as Word.
In the philosophy of Alexandria, of which Philo was an illustrious exponent, the two phases were combined, and Hellenistic speculation was united with Hebrew tradition for the purpose of showing that the Old Testament taught the true philosophy and embodied all that was highest in Greek reflection. In Philo the two streams meet and flow henceforth in a common bed. The all-pervading Energy of Heraclitus, the archetypal Ideas of Plato, the purposive Reason of Aristotle, the immanent Order of the Stoics are taken up and fused with the Jewish conception of Yahweh who, while transcending all finite existences, is revealed through His intermediatory Word. As the result of this Philonic synthesis, an entirely new idea of God is formulated. While Philo admits the eternity of matter, he rejects the Greek view that the world is eternal, since it denies the creative activity and providence of God. At the same time he separates Divine energy from its manifestations in the world, and is therefore compelled to connect the one with the other by the interposition of subordinate Powers. These Divine forces are the embodiment of the ideai, of Plato and the aggeloi, of the Old Testament. The double meaning of Logos-thought and speech-is made use of by Philo to explain the relation subsisting between the ideal world existing only in the mind of God and the sensible universe which is its visible embodiment. He distinguishes, therefore, between the Logos inherent in God (logos endiathetos), corresponding to reason in man, and the Logos which emanates from God (logos prophorikos), corresponding to the spoken Word as the revelation of thought. Though in His inner essence God is incomprehensible by any but Himself, He has created the intelligible cosmos by His self-activity. The Word is therefore in Philo the rational order manifested in the visible world.
Some special features of the Philonic Logos may be noted:
(1) It is distinguished from God as the instrument from the Cause.
(2) As instrument by which God makes the world, it is in its nature intermediate between God and man.
(3) As the expressed thought of God and the rational principle of the visible world, the Logos is "the Eldest or Firstborn Son of God." It is the "bond" (desmos) holding together all things (De Mundi, i.592), the law which determines the order of the universe and guides the destinies of men and nations (same place). Sometimes Philo calls it the "Man of God": or the "Heavenly man," the immortal father of all noble men; sometimes he calls it "the Second God," "the Image of God."
(4) From this it follows that the Logos must be the Mediator between God and man, the "Intercessor" (hiketes) or "High Priest," who is the ambassador from heaven and interprets God to man. Philo almost exhausts the vocabulary of Hebrew metaphor in describing the Logos. It is "manna," "bread from heaven," "the living stream," the "sword" of Paradise, the guiding "cloud," the "rock" in the wilderness.
These various expressions, closely resembling the New Testament descriptions of Christ, lead us to ask: Is Philo's Logos a personal being or a pure abstraction? Philo himself seems to waver in his answer, and the Greek and the Jew in him are hopelessly at issue. That he personifies the Logos is implied in the figures he uses; but to maintain its personality would have been inconsistent with Philo's whole view of God and the world. His Jewish faith inclines him to speak of the Logos as personal, while his Greek culture disposes him to an impersonal interpretation. Confronted with this alternative, the Alexandrian wavers in indecision. After all has been said, his Logos really resolves itself into a group of Divine ideas, and is conceived, not as a distinct person, but as the thought of God which is expressed in the rational order of the visible universe.
In the speculations of Philo, whose thought is so frequently couched in Biblical language, we have the gropings of a sincere mind after a truth which was disclosed in its fullness only by the revelation of Pentecost. In Philo, Greek philosophy, as has been said, "stood almost at the door of the Christian church." But if the Alexandrian thinker could not create the Christian doctrine, he unconsciously prepared the soil for its acceptance. In this sense his Logos-doctrine has a real value in the evolution of Christian thought. Philo was not, indeed, the master of the apostles, but even if he did nothing more than call forth their antagonism, he helped indirectly to determine the doctrine of Christendom.
IV. Christian Realization.
We pass now to consider the import of the term in the New Testament. Here it signifies usually "utterance," "speech" or "narrative." In reference to God it is used sometimes for a special utterance, or for revelation in general, and even for the medium of revelation-Holy Scripture. In the prologue of the Fourth Gospel it is identified with the personal Christ; and it is this employment of the term in the light of its past history which creates the interest of the problem of the New Testament doctrine.
1. Pauline Doctrine:
The author of the Fourth Gospel is not, however, the first New Testament writer who represents Jesus as the Logos. Though Paul does not actually use the word in this connection, he has anticipated the Johannine conception. Christ is represented by Paul as before His advent living a life with God in heaven (Galatians 4:4 Romans 10:6). He is conceived as one in whose image earthly beings, and especially men, were made (1 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49); and even as participating in the creation (1 Corinthians 8:6). In virtue of His distinct being He is called God's "own Son" (Romans 8:32).
Whether Paul was actually conversant with the writings of Philo is disputed (compare Pfleider, Urchristentum), but already when he wrote to the Colossians and Ephesians the influence of Alexandrian speculation was being felt in the church. Incipient Gnosticism, which was an attempt to correlate Christianity with the order of the universe as a whole, was current. Most noticeable are the pointed allusions to Gnostic watchwords in Ephesians 3:19 ("fullness of God") and in Colossians 2:3 ("Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden"), where Paul shows that everything sought for in the doctrine of the Pleroma is really given in Christ. The chief object of these epistles is to assert the unique dignity and absolute power of the Person of Christ. He is not merely one of the Eons which make up the Pleroma, as Gnostic teachers affirm, but a real and personal Being in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. He is not merely an inferior workman creating glory for a higher Master. He creates for Himself. He is the end as well as the source of all created. things (Colossians 1:15-20). Though throughout this epistle the word "Logos" is never introduced, it is plain that the eikon, of Paul is equivalent in rank and function to the Logos of John. Each exists prior to creation, each is equal to God, shares His life and cooperates in His work.
2. Doctrine in Hebrews:
In the Epistle to the Hebrews we have an equally explicit, if not fuller, declaration of the eternal Deity of Christ. Whatever may be said of Paul there can be little doubt that the author of He was familiar with the Philonic writings. Who this writer was we do not know; but his Philonism suggests that he may have been an Alexandrian Jew, possibly even a disciple of Philo. In language seemingly adapted from that source ("Son of God," "Firstborn," "above angels," "Image of God," "Agent in Creation," "Mediator," "Great High Priest" "Melchizedek") the author of He sneaks of Christ as a reflection of the majesty and imprint of the nature of God, just as in a seal the impression resembles the stamp. The dignity of His title indicates His essential rank. He is expressly dressed as God; and the expression "the effulgence of his glory" (the Revised Version (British and American) apaugasma) implies that He is one with God (Hebrews 1:3). By Him the worlds have been made, and all things are upheld by the fiat of His word (Hebrews 1:3). In the name He bears, in the honors ascribed to Him, in His superiority to angels, in His relationship as Creator both to heaven and earth (Hebrews 1:10), we recognize (in language which in the letter of it strongly reminds us of Philo, yet in its spirit is so different) the description of one who though clothed with human nature is no mere subordinate being, but the possessor of all Divine prerogatives and the sharer of the very nature of God Himself.
3. Doctrine in the Fourth Gospel:
In the Fourth Gospel the teaching of Paul and the author of He finds its completest expression. "The letter to the He stands in a sense half-way between Pauline and Johannine teaching" (Weizsacker, Apostolic Age, V, 11). It is, however, too much to say that these three writers represent the successive stages of single line of development. While all agree in emphasizing the fact of Christ's Divine personality and eternal being, Paul represents rather the religious interest, the Epistle to the Hebrews the philosophical. In the Johannine Christology the two elements are united.
In discussing the Johannine doctrine of the Logos we shall Speak first of its content and secondly of its terminology.
(1) Content of Doctrine.
The evangelist uses "Logos" 6 times as a designation of the Divine preexistent person of Christ (John 1:1, 14 1 John 1:1 Revelation 19:13), but he never puts it into the mouth of Christ. The idea which John sought to convey by this term was not essentially different from the conception of Christ as presented by Paul. But the use of the word gave a precision and emphasis to the being of Christ which the writer must have felt was especially needed by the class of readers for whom his Gospel was intended. The Logos with whom the Fourth Gospel starts is a Person. Readers of the Synoptics had long been familiar with the term "Word of God" as equivalent to the Gospel; but the essential purport of John's Word is Jesus Himself, His Person. We have here an essential change of meaning. The two applications are indeed connected; but the conception of the perfect revelation of God in the Gospel passes into that of the perfect revelation of the Divine nature in general (compare Weizsacker, Apostolic Age, V, ii, 320).
In the prologue (which, however, must not be regarded as independent of, or having no integral connection with, the rest of the book) there is stated: (a) the relation of the Logos to God; and (b) the relation of the Logos to the world.
(a) Relation of Logos to God:
Here the author makes three distinct affirmations:
(i) "In the beginning was the Word."
The evangelist carries back his history of our Lord to a point prior to all temporal things. Nothing is said of the origin of the world. As in Genesis 1:1, so here there is only implied that the Logos was existent when the world began to be. When as yet nothing was, the Logos was. Though the eternal preexistence of the Word is not actually stated, it is implied.
(ii) "The Word was with God."
Here His personal existence is more specifically defined. He stands distinct from, yet in eternal fellowship with, God. The preposition pros (bei, Luther) expresses beyond the fact of coexistence that of perpetual intercommunion. John would guard against the idea of mere self-contemplation on the one hand, and entire independence on the other. It is union, not fusion.
(iii) "The Word was God."
He is not merely related eternally, but actually identical in essence with God. The notion of inferiority is emphatically excluded and the true Deity of the Word affirmed. In these three propositions we ascend from His eternal existence to His distinct personality and thence to His substantial Godhead. All that God is the Logos is. Identity, difference, communion are the three phases of the Divine relationship.
(b) Relation of Logos to the World:
The Logos is word as well as thought, and therefore there is suggested the further idea of communicativeness. Of this self-communication the evangelist mentions two phases-creation and revelation. The Word unveils Himself through the mediation of objects of sense and also manifests Himself directly. Hence, in this section of the prologue (John 1:3-5) a threefold division also occurs.
(i) He is the Creator of the visible universe. "All things were made through him"-a phrase which describes the Logos as the organ of the entire creative activity of God and excludes the idea favored by Plato and Philo that God was only the architect who molded into cosmos previously existing matter. The term egeneto ("becomes," werden), implies the successive evolution of the world, a statement not inconsistent with the modern theory of development.
(ii) The Logos is also the source of the intellectual, moral and spiritual life of man. "In him was life; and the life was the light of men." He is the light as well as the life-the fountain of all the manifold forms of being and thought in and by whom all created things subsist, and from whom all derive illumination (compare 1 John 1:1-3; also Colossians 1:17). But inasmuch as the higher phases of intelligent life involve freedom, the Divine Light, though perfect and undiminished in itself, was not comprehended by a world which chose darkness rather than light (John 1:5, 11).
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