The Unique “Logos” in The Gospel of John
Name : Naomi Fortuna
Some of the questions raised when we read the first chapter of the Gospel of John are “Why the writer used the word Logos, which is from Greek Philosophy, to address Christ?”, “What is the meaning of Logos in the context of the readers and the writer of this Gospel?”. There is a unique concept of Logos which made this term used by the author as the opening idea of the Gospel. Through this writing, I want to explore the uniqueness of the meaning of Logos (in the context of the readers and the writer) as the contact point of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Son of God .
The purpose of the author writing this Gospel recorded in John 20:31 “..but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” . The purpose of the Gospel is make people know Christ, the Son of God, and believe in Him. The aim is to win people to know Christ. The term of “Logos” becomes the point of contact of the writer and the readers to understand the Supremacy of Christ and His incarnation to the world. The word “Logos” has special meaning to both Jews and Gentiles.
II. The readers' worldview of “Logos”
a. The usage of the term in “Logos” in Greek Philosophy
Heraclitus (ca 500 BCE) employed the term logos in its common meaning: proportion, account, explanation and for an underlying cosmic principle of order which related to measure, reckoning or proportion, ordering principle of the material world1. Plato (429 BCE) used the term in association with discourse or rational explanation, true account. Rational discourse plays an important role as the higher levels of being, at the level of essence, or idea of things, and could lead to the real knowledge2. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) used the term logos in the sense of “definition”, “proportion” and “ratio”. He used it to refer to rational speech and rationality.
In the Stoicsm, Logos played a cosmological role. For the Stoic, logos, God and nature were in reality one. Logos was the rational element that pervades the controls all of the universe. For a Greek, who influenced by Stoic philosophy, the Logos meant the Rational Principle permeating all reality3.
b. The usage of the term “Logos” in Septuagint
In Septuagint, Logos was used to translate some Hebrew words. Over 90% of the times, logos was used to translate the word “dabar” (“word” in Hebrew). This translation used especially in prophetic books and wisdom literature. Logos in the Septuagint has more dynamic meaning than its original meaning in Greek4. To a Jew, the Word of God is the creative power of God in action and the guiding purpose of God at work in Hebrew history5. The association of God's logos with creation and cosmic order was an important influence on the use of logos in Hellenistic Jewish literature and speculation6.
III. The uniqueness of “Logos” at the Gospel of John
Christ in the beginning (1:1)
How the author of synoptic gospel begin their writings? Matthew started with the genealogy of Jesus. Mark began with the quotation of the prophet Isaiah, and Luke started with formal introduction of his work and the purpose of his writing. The writer of the book of John started with “In the beginning was the Word (logos)”. The writer of the Gospel of John started with even far more before the creation, the origins of everything: Logos (the Word of God).
The word “in the beginning..” reminds us about the account of creation. Logos is the wisdom resources of the creation. Everything from nothing become being and something. By Words, God created all things in the creation. Logos is the resource of rationale, intellectual of why and how everything exist in this world. This is consistent with what Paul said in Colossians 1:15-17, Christ is firstborn over all creation, by Him and for Him all things was created, He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. This thought is also congruent with the account story of creation (Gen 1:1) “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Christ was there before and on the time of creation account, He was eternally with God and He is God.
Christ was with God and Christ is God (1:1)
The Gospel of John open his writing with the magnificent identity of Christ. In his Gospel, John affirms Jesus pre-existence, His personality and His divinity. He shares God's eternity. He was eternally with God and He is one with God7. The term “with God” here means that “The Word” is distinct from God but enjoying a personal relationship with Him8.
This verse describes about equal relationship between the Father and the Son. Logos has eternal personality. Logos regarded as living, intelligent and active personality9. Logos is deity and identical in essence with God10 , He possessed and eternally manifested the very nature of God11. In this Gospel, the author introduce the concept of equality and unity between God the Father and the Son.
Christ is the Incarnate Word (1:14)
The phrase “the Word (Logos) became flesh” is one of the hardest and difficult statement to be understand in this chapter. God who is unlimited incarnated to the limited world. He entered humanity in the flesh. He expressed Himself in a human personality that was visible, audible, and tangible12. Flesh is used here in the sense of physical life, human nature13. Christ's incarnation is the ultimate God's salvation act to save His people from sin.
God, who is invisible, entered human world and became visible to men. God who by Himself created all the universe, heaven and earth, incarnated into human likeness to save the fallen world. God manifested Himself and lived among His own people. This is a picture of a deep, majestic love of God who humble Himself taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Phil 2:6-8). This also becomes one of the message proclaimed in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God made His dwelling (tabernacle) with us, God is Immanuel.
The readers of this Gospel could be range of Gentiles and Jews who would grasp at least some measure of the understanding of this worldview .The glimpse of the meaning of Logos can be sensed by the readers as a contact point before they enter to read the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The writer of this Gospel opening his writing with a wonderful meaning of Logos. He expound the greatest message and mystery in human history : the Incarnation of Christ. All things are centered in Christ. All human history, culture, philosophy are centered to Christ.
The author used of the term Logos is a magnificent idea of introducing Jesus Christ as supreme above all things, resource and creator of all things in the context of Greek philosophy influence. Christ is the reason why everything exist, He is the wisdom to reveal all the mystery, He is eternal, He created all things, He is God. Christ is the answer for what the world looking for: the reason behind all things. This Gospel becomes a message of 'to know who is Jesus' for the Jews and Gentiles who live in their context that day, so that they can believe and have life in His name.
- Tobin, Thomas H., “Logos”, The Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol 4, ed. David N Freedman (New York: Doubleday)
- Hunter, A.M, The Cambridge Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John (London: Cambridge University Press, 1965)
- Milne, Bruce., Bible Speak Today : The Message of John (Leicester:Intervarsity-Press, 1993)
- Carson, D.A., The Gospel According to John (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991)
- Tenney, Merrill C., John : The Gospel of Belief (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman Publishing, 1997)
- Kent Jr, Homer A., Light in the Darkness: Studies in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1974)
1Thomas H. Tobin, “Logos”, The Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol 4, ed. David N Freedman (New York: Doubleday), p.348
2Ibid, p. 348
3A.M Hunter, The Cambridge Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John (London: Cambridge University Press, 1965), p.16
4Tobin, op.cit, p. 350
5Hunter, op.cit, p.16
6Tobin, op.cit., p. 350
7Bruce Milne, Bible Speak Today : The Message of John (Leicester:Intervarsity-Press, 1993), p. 32-34
8D.A Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), p 117
9Merrill C Tenney, John : The Gospel of Belief (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman Publishing, 1997), p.64
10Homer A. Kent Jr, Light in the Darkness: Studies in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1974), p. 26
11Tenney, op.cit., p.65
13Kent Jr, op.cit., p.26