The Logos – the speaker or his speech?

In a previous post  I pointed out that the prologue of John’s gospel introduces the key concept of Jesus Christ as the Logos, or Word, of God, yet after these 18 verses appears to drop the idea altogether. But this is misleading, because John uses the word “logos” some 24 times more in his gospel, and another 6 or so times in the letter of 1 John.

Of these, the majority refer to the idea of teaching, but the most interesting are a few instances where there is some considerable ambiguity about whether Jesus himself is meant by the word.

The clearest of these is 1 Jn 1.1-3:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the logos of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard…

Now does this “logos” mean the message about Jesus, or Jesus himself? It’s impossible to be sure. It would seem, rather, that John thinks they are more or less synonymous. This ambiguity continues through the letter. In 2.14 John says he writes to the young men:

…because you are strong and the logos of God lives in you.

This thought is parallel with addresses to other groups: “knowing him who is from the beginning”, “knowing the Father, “sins have been forgiven on account of his name” and “overcoming the evil one”. The predominant idea is of knowing God, or knowing Jesus, rather than accepting teaching. And in a letter one of whose main themes is the indwelling of the believer by Jesus, 1.10 says:

If we claim we have not sinned we make [God] out to be a liar, and his logos is not in us.

Similar uses appear in the gospel. Jesus, praying for his disciples in 17.14 says:

“I have given them your logos.”

Bearing in mind, though, that he earlier said (6.51):

“This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”

does not John have in mind more than only his teaching? Indeed, when Jesus scandalises his hearers by saying they must eat his flesh as bread, they murmur, “This is a hard logos. Who can accept it?” (6.60) and many of them cease following him. John seems to be saying, with subtlety, that it is the teacher, as much as the teaching, they reject, alluding back to 1.11 in the prologue:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Again, Jesus calls himself “The way, the truth and the life” (the last we have already picked up in 1 John 1.2), yet prays in 17.17:

“Sanctify them by your truth; your logos is truth.”

I suggest that John regards “logos” as encompassing both the person and the word of Jesus, for they are not ultimately distinguishable: “logos” implies the mind that brings forth speech. And this, indeed, is the Old Testament theme that most informs John’s prologue. I mentioned before John’s reference to the creative word of God in Genesis 1, which brings forth all that exists. But both these “ambiguous” passages, and the many other uses of “logos” in John’s writing allude also to the logos of God that came to the prophets of old, such as Isa 1.10 (LXX), Jeremiah 1.4 (LXX), Ezekiel 1.3 (LXX), Hosea 1.1 (LXX) and many more.

I’ll build on that idea in a later post, but for now it is clear that for John, Jesus the Logos encompasses not only who he is, but what he says as God’s active word. Jesus and his doctrine cannot be separated. You cannot have the Logos without his logoi.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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