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Logos (Christianity)


Logos (Christianity)

Word of God Window at St. Matthew's German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina

In Christology, the concept that the Christ is the Logos (Greek: Λόγος for "word", "discourse" or "reason") has been important in establishing the doctrine of the divinity and morality of Jesus Christ and his position as God the Son in the Trinity as set forth in the Chalcedonian Creed.

The concept derives from the opening of the Gospel of John, which is often simply translated into English as: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the translations, "Word" is used for Logos (λόγος), but in theological discourse, this is often left untranslated.


  • Christ as the logos 1
    • Psalm 33:6 1.1
    • Luke 1:2 1.2
    • John 1:1 1.3
    • First John 1:1 1.4
  • Logos as Word, Wisdom, Old Testament Revelation 2
  • In Christian history and theology 3
    • Justin Martyr 3.1
    • Chalcedonian Christology and Platonism 3.2
    • In Roman Catholicism 3.3
    • In Non-Trinitarian and Unitarian belief 3.4
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6

Christ as the logos

Christian theologians often consider John 1:1 to be a central text in their belief that Jesus is God, in connection with the idea that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equals. Though only in this verse is Jesus referred to as the Word of God, the theme transposed throughout the Gospel of John with variations.[1] Theologian N.T. Wright characterizes "Word" (logos) as being incomprehensible in human language. He claims that through belief the Logos will transform people with its judgment and mercy. According to Wright, John's view of the Incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of what he terms "the liberal denial...of the idea of God becoming human...." His assessment is that when the "enfleshment" and speaking Word is removed from the center of Christian theology, all that is left is "a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles, no words of judgment (because nothing is really wrong, except saying that things are wrong), no words of mercy (because you're all right as you are, so all you need is affirmation)."[2]

Theologian Stephen L. Harris claims the author of John adapted Philo's concept of the Logos, identifying Jesus as an incarnation of the divine Logos that formed the universe[3] (cf. Proverbs 8:22-36).

  • Jews. To the rabbis who spoke of the Torah (Law) as preexistent, as God's instrument in creation, and is the source of light and life, John replied that these claims apply rather to the Logos.
  • Gnostics. To the Gnostics who would deny a real incarnation, John's answer was most emphatic: "the Word became flesh."
  • Followers of John the Baptist. To those who stopped with John the Baptist, he made it clear that John was not the Light but only witness to the Light.

Although the term Logos is not retained as a title beyond the prologue, the whole book of John presses these basic claims. As the Logos, Jesus Christ is God in self-revelation (Light) and redemption (Life). He is God to the extent that he can be present to man and knowable to man. The Logos is God, as Thomas stated: "My Lord and my God." Yet the Logos is in some sense distinguishable from God, for "the Logos was with God." God and the Logos are not two beings, and yet they are also not simply identical. In contrast to the Logos, God can be conceived (in principle at least) also apart from his revelatory action─although we must not forget that the Bible speaks of God only in his revelatory action. The paradox that the Logos is God and yet it is in some sense distinguishable from God is maintained in the body of the Gospel. That God as he acts and as he is revealed does not "exhaust" God as he is, is reflected in sayings attributed to Jesus: I and the Father are one" and also, "the Father is greater than I." The Logos is God active in creation, revelation, and redemption. Jesus Christ not only gives God's Word to us humans; he is the Word. He is the true word─ultimate reality revealed in a Person. The Logos is God, distinguishable in thought yet not separable in fact. This was decreed at the First Council of Constantinople (381).[4]

Psalm 33:6

Among many verses in the Septuagint prefiguring New Testament usage is Psalms 33:6 which relates directly to the Genesis creation.[5] Theophilus of Antioch references the connection in To Autolycus 1:7.[6] Augustine of Hippo considered that in Ps.33:6 both logos and pneuma were "on the verge of being personified".[7]

Psalm 33:6 "By the word (logos) of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath (pneuma) of his mouth all their host (dynamis)." (ESV)

Luke 1:2

David L. Jeffrey and Leon Morris[8][9] have seen in Luke 1:2 a first reference to Logos and Beginning:

Luke 1:2 "just as those who from the beginning (Greek arche) were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Greek logos) have delivered them to us" (ESV)

John 1:1

A series of articles on
John in the Bible
Johannine literature
Gospel of John · First Epistle of John · Second Epistle of John · Third Epistle of John · Revelation
John the Apostle · John the Evangelist · John of Patmos  · John the Presbyter · Disciple whom Jesus loved
Twelve Apostles · The Early Church
Related literature
Apocryphon of John · Acts of John · Logos · Signs Gospel

The Gospel of John begins with a Hymn to the Word which identifies Jesus as the Logos and the Logos as divine. The last four words of John 1:1 (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, literally "God was the Logos," or "God was the Word") have been a particular topic of debate within Christianity. In this construct, the subject (the Logos) and the complement (God) both appear in the nominative case, and the complement is therefore usually distinguished by dropping any article, and moving it before the verb.[10][11] Grammatically, the phrase could therefore read either "the Word was God" or "the Word was a god." Early New Testament manuscripts did not distinguish upper and lower case,[10] so that pre-existing beliefs about the Trinity have influenced translation, although many scholars see the movement of "God" to the front of the clause as indicating an emphasis more consistent with "the Word was God."[12][13][14][15]

The most common English translation is "the Word was God"[16] with even more emphatic translations being "the Word was God Himself" (Amplified Bible) or "the Word ... was truly God" (Contemporary English Version).

Some other translations, such as An American Translation (1935)[17] and Moffatt, New Translation,[18] render "the Word was divine." Related translations have also been suggested, such as "what God was the Word also was."[19]

Some Non-Trinitarian translations render "and the word was a god” such as the Unitarian Thomas Belsham's 1808 revision[20] of William Newcome's version and New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses[21][22]

Although "Word" is the most common translation of the noun Logos, other translations have been used. Gordon Clark (1902–1985), a Calvinist theologian and expert on pre-Socratic philosophy, famously translated Logos as "Logic": "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God."[23] He meant to imply by this translation that the laws of logic were derived from God and formed part of Creation, and were therefore not a secular principle imposed on the Christian world view.[24]

For a more complete chronological listing see: Translations of "Logos" in John 1:1 in English versions

The question of how to translate Logos is also treated in Goethe's Faust, with Faust finally opting for die Tat, ("deed/action").

First John 1:1

John 1's subject is developed in 1 John 1.[25][26][27][28] 1 John 1:1 "That which was from the beginning (arche), which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word (logos) of life—" (ESV)

Logos as Word, Wisdom, Old Testament Revelation

God the Geometer — Gothic frontispiece of the Bible moralisée, representing God's act of Creation. France, mid-13th century

The Old Testament has given an essential contribution to the New Testament christological message for Christ as Logos, translated as the Word. The Word is with God from the beginning (Gen 1:1 John 1:1), powerfully creative (Gen 1:1-2:4 Isa 55:10-11 Ps 33:6,9;107:20 Judith 16:14) and God's personified self-expression (Wis 18:14-16). Like wisdom,[29] the word expresses God's active power and self-revelation in the created world. Solomon's prayer for wisdom takes word and wisdom as synonymous agents of divine creation; "God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, you made all things by your word, and by your wisdom fashioned humankind" (Wis 9:1-2). Even so, John's prologue does not open by saying: "In the beginning was Wisdom, and Wisdom was with God, and Wisdom was God" (cf. John 1:1).[30]

Despite the fact that, in the literature of pre-Christian Judaism, wisdom, word, and, for that matter, spirit were "near alternatives as ways of describing the active, immanent power of God",[31] there are several considerations to understand why John chose word and not wisdom. First, given that sophia (Greek for wisdom) was personified as Lady Wisdom (e.g., Prov 1:20-33;8:1-9:6 Wis 8:2), it could have seemed awkward to speak of this female figure "being made flesh" when Jesus was male. Second, in Hellenistic Judaism the law of Moses had been identified with wisdom (Sir 24:23 Bar 4:1-4) and credited with many of her characteristics.[32] To announce then that "Wisdom was God and was made flesh" could have been felt to suggest that "the Torah was God and was made flesh". Within a few years Christians were to identify the Son of God and Logos with law or the law,[33] But, neither John nor any other New Testament authors identified Christ with the Torah.[34] Third, Paul, Luke (especially in Acts of the Apostles), and other New Testament witnesses prepared the way for John's prologue by their use of logos for God's revelation through Christ.[35]

Both in New Testament times and later, the Johannine "Word" offered rich christological possibilities. First the possibility of identification and distinction. On the one hand, words proceed from a speaker; being a kind of an extension of the speaker, they are, in a certain sense, identical with the speaker ("the Word was God"). On the other hand, a word is distinct from one who utters it ("the Word was with God"). Therefore, Christ was/is identified with, yet distinct from, YHWH. Second, God has been uttering the divine Word always ("in/from the beginning"); the Word "was" (not "came to be") God. In this context "Word" opens up reflection on the personal, eternal pre-existence of the Logos-Son. God has never been without the Word.[36]

Third, words reveal their speakers. Shamefully, or happily, words express what is in our mind. In the Old Testament, "the word of God" repeatedly denotes the revelation of God and the divine will. John's Gospel can move smoothly from the language of "the Word" to focus on "God the only Son who has made the Father known" (John 1:18). As the Son of God sent from the Father, or the Son of man who has come down from heaven, in a unique and exclusive way Jesus reveals heavenly knowledge.[36][37] At the same time, this Word offers light to everyone coming into the world (John 1:9), a theme soon developed, with help of Philo, Middle Platonic, and/or Stoic thought, by Justin, Origen, and others.[38]

Fourth, John's Logos Christology opened the way for Christians not only to recognise the influence of the Logos outside Christianity, but also to dialogue with non-Christians thinkers. Those who endorsed Jewish, Platonic, and Stoic strands of thought about the Logos could find a measure of common ground with Christians, who, nevertheless, remained distinctive with their claim that "the Logos was made flesh". The notion of "the Logos" probably offered a more effective bridge to contemporary culture than that of "wisdom".

Finally, when New Testament Christians called the crucified and risen Jesus the Word and Wisdom of God, they were not only expressing his divine identity, but also drawing attention to the belief that Christology did not begin with the incarnation and not even with Jesus' background in the call, history, and religious faith of the Jewish people. By maintaining that the whole world was created through the divine Wisdom and Word (John 1:3 Col 1:16 Heb 1:2) they did more than link Jesus as the last Adam with the high point of the original creation in the making of human beings. They interpreted him as the divine agent of all creation. Thus, creation, right from the beginning, carried christological face.[36]

In Christian history and theology

Justin Martyr

Following John 1, the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c 150) identified Jesus as the Logos.[39][40] Like Philo, Justin also identified the Logos with the Angel of the LORD, and used this as a way of arguing for Christianity to Jews:

I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos;[41]

In his First Apology, Justin used the Stoic concept of the Logos as a way of arguing for Christianity to non-Jews. Since a Greek audience would accept this concept, his argument could concentrate on identifying this Logos with Jesus.[39] However, Justin does not go so far as to articulate a fully consistent doctrine of the Logos.[39]

Chalcedonian Christology and Platonism

Even though post-apostolic Christian writers struggled with the question of the identity of Jesus and the Logos, the Church’s doctrine that Jesus was the Logos never changed. Each of the first six councils, from the First Council of Nicea (325) to the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) defined Jesus Christ as fully God and fully human.[42] Christianity did not accept the Platonic argument that the spirit is good and the flesh is evil, and that therefore the man Jesus could not be God. Neither did it accept any of the Platonic beliefs that would have made Jesus something less than fully God and fully human at the same time. The original teaching of John’s gospel is, "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.... And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us."[43] The final Christology of Chalcedon (confirmed by Constantinople III) was that Jesus Christ is both God and man, and that these two natures are inseparable, indivisible, unconfused and unchangeable.[44]

In Roman Catholicism

A series of articles on

On April 1, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who would become Pope Benedict XVI just over two weeks later) referred to the Christian religion as the religion of the Logos:

Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the "Logos." It is faith in the "Creator Spiritus," (Creator Spirit), from which proceeds everything that exists. Today, this should be precisely its philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not, therefore, other than a "sub-product," on occasion even harmful of its development or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal. The Christian faith inclines toward this second thesis, thus having, from the purely philosophical point of view, really good cards to play, despite the fact that many today consider only the first thesis as the only modern and rational one par excellence. However, a reason that springs from the irrational, and that is, in the final analysis, itself irrational, does not constitute a solution for our problems. Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way. In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the "Logos," from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.[45]

Catholics can use logos to refer to the moral law written in human hearts. This comes from Jeremiah 31:33 (prophecy of new covenant): "I will write my law on their hearts." St. Justin wrote that those who have not accepted Christ but follow the moral law of their hearts (logos) follow God, because it is God who has written the moral law in each person's heart. Though man may not explicitly recognize God, he has the spirit of Christ if he follows Jesus' moral laws, written in his heart.

Michael Heller has argued “that Christ is the logos implies that God’s immanence in the world is his rationality.”[46]

In Non-Trinitarian and Unitarian belief

Photinus denied that the Logos as the Wisdom of God had an existence of its own before the birth of Christ.[47] For Socinus, Christ was the Logos, but he denied His pre-existence; He was the Word of God as being His Interpreter (Latin: interpres divinae voluntatis).[48] Nathaniel Lardner and Joseph Priestley considered the Logos a personification of God's wisdom.[49]

See also


  1. ^ cf. John 6:60, , , ,
  2. ^ Wright, N. T (February 27, 2010). "What Is This Word?". Christianity Today. 
  3. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "John" p. 302-310
  4. ^ Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology.
  5. ^ 32:6 τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ κυρίου οἱ οὐρανοὶ ἐστερεώθησαν καὶ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ πᾶσα ἡ δύναμις αὐτῶν
  6. ^ Oskar Skarsaune In the shadow of the temple: Jewish influences on early Christianity p342
  7. ^ Augustine The Trinity Edmund Hill, John E. Rotelle 1991 p35
  8. ^ David L. Jeffrey A Dictionary of biblical tradition in English literature 1992 Page 460 "in his reference to "eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word" (Luke 1:2) he is certainly speaking of the person as well as the words"
  9. ^ Leon Morris The Gospel according to John 1995 Page 110 "when Luke speaks of those who were "eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (Luke 1:2), it is difficult to escape the impression that by "the word" he means more than the teaching."
  10. ^ a b J.W. Wenham, The Elements of New Testament Greek, Cambridge University Press, 1965, p. 35.
  11. ^ Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 68, ISBN 0-8028-2504-4.
  12. ^ William Hendriksen, The Gospel of John, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1959, p. 71.
  13. ^ William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 2nd ed, Zondervan, 2003, pp. 27–28.
  14. ^ F. F. Bruce, Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Gospel of John, Eerdmans , 1994, p. 31, ISBN 0-8028-0883-2.
  15. ^ D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans , 1991, p. 117, ISBN 0-8028-3683-6.
  16. ^ e.g. King James Version, Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New Living Translation, English Standard Version, and Young's Literal Translation,
  17. ^ "An American Translation (Smith-Goodspeed)". Innvista. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  18. ^ "Moffatt, New Translation". Innvista. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  19. ^ Francis J. Moloney and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of John, Liturgical Press, 1998, p. 35. ISBN 0-8146-5806-7.
  20. ^ "The New Testament: in an improved version upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome's new translation, with a corrected text, and notes critical and explanatory". Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  21. ^ New World Translation.
  22. ^ New World Translation.
  23. ^ Daniel B. Wallace and M. James Sawyer (eds), Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?, Biblical Studies Press, 2005, p. 269, ISBN 0-7375-0068-9.
  24. ^ Rick M. Nañez, Full Gospel, Fractured Minds?: A Call to Use God's Gift of the Intellect, Zondervan, 2006, p. 139, ISBN 0-310-26308-5.
  25. ^ John Painter, Daniel J. Harrington 1, 2, and 3 John 2002 p131 "The opening verse of the Gospel shares with 1 John 1:1 the important words arche, "beginning," and logos, "word.""
  26. ^ Dwight Moody Smith First, Second, and Third John 1991 p48 "parallel is perhaps the identification of Jesus as the word (logos) in 1 John 1:1 and John 1:14."
  27. ^ Georg Strecker, Friedrich Wilhelm Horn Theology of the New Testament 2000 p473 "1-2; not in this absolute sense: 2 John 5-6; 1 John 1:1, ... The subject of the hymn is the divine Logos, who is portrayed as the preexistent mediator..."
  28. ^ Stephen S. Smalley 1, 2, 3 John 2008 p25 "The first clause in 1 John 1:1 will then refer to the pre-existent Logos, and the following three clauses "to the incarnate Logos" "
  29. ^ The N.T. uses various strands from O.T. accounts of "wisdom" and uses them for Jesus: first, like wisdom, Christ pre-existed all things and dwelt with God John 1:1-2); second, the lyric language about wisdom being the breath of the divine power, reflecting divine glory, mirroring light, and being an image of God, appears to be echoed by 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 24-5 (verses which associate divine wisdom with power), by Hebrew 1:3 ("he is the radiance of God's glory"), John 1:9 ("the true light that gives light to everyone"), and Colossians 1:15 ("the image of the invisible God"). Third, the N.T. applies to Christ the language about wisdom's cosmic significance as God's agent in the creation of the world: "all things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made" (John 1:3; see Col 1:16 Heb 1:2). Fourth, faced with Christ's crucifixion, Paul vividly transforms the notion of divine wisdom's inaccessibility (1 Cor. 1:17-2:13). "The wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:21) is not only "secret and hidden" (1 Cor. 2:7) but also, defined by the cross and its proclamation, downright folly to the wise of this world (1 Cor. 1:18-25; see also Matt 11:25-7). Fifth, through his parables and other ways, Christ teaches wisdom (Matt 25:1-12 Luke 16:1-18, cf. also Matt 11:25-30). He is 'greater' than Solomon, the O.T. wise person and teacher par excellence (Matt 12:42). Sixth, the N.T. does not, however, seem to have applied to Christ the themes of Lady Wisdom and her radiant beauty. Pope Leo the Great (d. 461), however, recalled Proverbs 9:1 by picturing the unborn Jesus in Mary's womb as "Wisdom building a house for herself" (Epistolae, 31. 2-3). There is, at any rate, a marked preference in N.T. for Logos as spoken word or rational utterance, despite the availability of this wisdom language and conceptuality, and John prefers to speak of "the Word" (John 1:1,14; cf. 1 John 1:1, Rev 19:13), a term that offers a rich complexity of meanings.
  30. ^ It is important to differentiate between the meaning and translation of Logos, as rendered by the various traditions and texts. This will be emphasized further in this section, following the studies of G. O'Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, OUP (1995), pp. 24-41; J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, SCM Press (1989), pp. 196-207, 230-9.
  31. ^ J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, cit., p. 196.
  32. ^ At least in one place (Isa 2:3) 'word' is associated with Torah.
  33. ^ Cf. Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudines, 8. 3. 2; St Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 43. 1 and see 11. 2.
  34. ^ The closest approach to such an identification is found in Gal 6:2 ('the law of Christ') and Rom 10:4 (if one adopts the more 'positive' translation, 'Christ is the goal of the law'). For N.T. authors, Jesus replaces Torah and its attributes. Torah had been described in terms of light (Ps 119:105 Prov 6:23) and life (Ps 119:93 Prov 4:4,13). Now Jesus, especially in Johannine language, is the light of the world and the life of the world.
  35. ^ As Dunn, op. cit. pp. 230-9, rightly argues, the background for John's choice of 'word' is also to be found in the earlier books of the N.T. and not just in the O.T., or other sources such as Philo, et al.; cf. also A. T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to St John, Continuum (2005), pp.94-8.
  36. ^ a b c Cf. G. O'Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, cit., pp. 24-41
  37. ^ Cf. Dunn, op. cit., pp. xxvi-xxviii.
  38. ^ Logos Christology proved helpful as regards Christ's revelatory and salvific role for non-Christians. In his First Apology, Justin Martyr wrote: "We have been taught that Christ is the first begotten of God and that he is the Word (Logos) of whom the whole human race partakes. Those who have lived according to the Word are Christians, even though they have been considered atheists: such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and others like them" (46.1-4). Wherever there was the Logos there was some true light and genuine knowledge of God. Like Justin, Origen acknowledged how this happened beyond and before Christianity: "It is not true that [God's] rays were enclosed in the man [Jesus] alone... or that the Light which is the divine Logos, which causes these rays, existed nowhere else... We are careful not to raise objections to any good teaching, even if their authors are outside the faith." (Contra Celsum, 7. 17).
  39. ^ a b c Erwin R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr, 1923 (reprint on demand BiblioBazaar, LLC, pp. 139–175. ISBN 1-113-91427-0)
  40. ^ Jules Lebreton, 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Justin Martyr.
  41. ^ Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 61.
  42. ^ New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: The 21 Ecumenical Councils, available at 14388.
  43. ^ John 1:1;14 NIV with Greek inserted.
  44. ^ Donald Macleod: The Person of Christ, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1998), 185.
  45. ^ Cardinal Ratzinger on Europe's crisis of culture, retrieved from
  46. ^ Heller, Michael. Creative Tension: Essays on Religion and Science. Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2003. ISBN 1-932031-34-0.
  47. ^ C. W. Wolfskeel introduction to De immortalitate animae of Augustine: text, translation and commentary 1977 p19
  48. ^ The Catholic encyclopedia
  49. ^ Isabel Rivers, David L. Wykes Joseph Priestley, scientist, philosopher, and theologian 2008 p36 "As historians have pointed out, it does seem surprising that Priestley should have been influenced to change his opinions at this date by A Letter...Concerning...the Logos by the Biblical scholar Nathaniel Lardner (1684–1768)"


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