(loh' gohss) The Greek term usually translated “word.” In common usage it carried a variety of meanings: an account or reckoning, an argument, principle, reason, or thought. As an English suffix, it designates areas of study: theology, biology, physiology, psychology.
Among the Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics, logos came to mean the rational principle that gave order to the cosmos. It could therefore be equated with God. Human reason, in turn, derived from this universal logos. Philo of Alexandria used this concept in his efforts to interpret Jewish religion for those versed in Greek philosophy. In Philo's writings, logos was the mediating agency by which God created the world and by which revelation comes to God's people. The logos became a distinct entity, specifically the “word of God” active in creation and revelation.
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, logos translates the word dabar, which could mean “word,” “thing,” or “event.” In Hebrew thought, the dabar was dynamic and filled with a power that was transmitted to those who received it. The term was often used to designate God's communication to his people, as at the beginning of many of the writings of the prophets: “The word of the Lord came.” The whole of the Law, or all of Scripture, could then be referred to as God's Word.
Toward the end of the Old Testament period Wisdom was increasingly personified as the Word of God that mediated between God and the world (see
Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2). Wisdom (sophia) was preexistent, God's first creation, His instrument and agent in all the rest of creation. God became increasingly aloof in Jewish theology and dealt with His creation only through this subordinate being and through His angels.
In the New Testament logos is used both with common and with technical meanings. It is used for empty words (Ephesians 5:6) and evil words (3 John 1:10), but it could also refer to the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 24:35). Jesus preached the word (Mark 2:2) or the word of God (Luke 5:1), and judgment would be determined by one's response to Jesus' words (Mark 8:38). The gospel, the message about Jesus, could then be called “the word” (1 Thessalonians 1:6;
Titus 1:2-3) or “the word of God” (Acts 8:14;
1 Thessalonians 2:13). The word carries God's power to save (1 Corinthians 1:18). Those who receive the word are called to be faithful to it (Titus 1:9) and to be “doers of the word” (James 1:22).
In the Johannine writings Jesus himself is called the logos (John 1:1,John 1:14). Paul called Jesus the “wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) and spoke of His preexistence (Philippians 2:6;
Colossians 1:15-16); but only in the Johannine literature do we find the full development of an understanding of Jesus as the logos or wisdom of God that became incarnate. As the preexistent logos, the Son of God was the agent of creation. In contrast to earlier wisdom speculation, John affirmed that the logos was with God and was God. The logos was not created. Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, we find logos used with qualifiers such as “of God” (John 10:35), “of Jesus” (John 18:32), “my word” (John 8:43), or “his word” (John 8:55).
Revelation 19:13 calls Jesus the “word of God,” and
1 John 1:1 speaks of Him as “the word of life” (compare
Hebrews 1:2), but only in the prologue of the Gospel is logos used of Jesus in the absolute sense. Throughout John's Gospel Jesus spoke and acted as the incarnate logos, continuing God's creative and redemptive work. Hence, He could change water to wine, create eyes for a man born blind, and breathe the Spirit into His disciples (John 20:22).
John was probably dependent upon the developments in the use of logos that are evident in Jewish wisdom speculation and in Philo's writings, but John's distinctive contribution was the adoption of this concept to illuminate the identity and role of Jesus more fully. The Gospel of John declares that the logos of whom the philosophers and sages spoke had come in human form in Jesus of Nazareth. See Christ, Christology; Creation; Philo Judaeus; Prophets; Wisdom.
R. Alan Culpepper