The Logos and his logoi

One of the things that becomes evident when discussing theology with theistic evolutionists (ID isn’t a theological project, so it’s harder to tell) is how seldom one encounters a high view of biblical authority, still less inerrancy, amongst largely evangelical supporters. BioLogos has published a preponderance of articles, with a few notable exceptions, on the errors in Scripture and how they needn’t affect faith. In other words there’s a lot more about detecting what it gets wrong than what it gets right. More significantly the comments of those in the TE camp predominantly range from support for an ill-defined limited infallibility to an assumption that the Bible infallibly teaches that it is not infallible, the opposite view being a nineteenth century invention. There seems much sympathy for concepts not far removed from the old “Christ unites, doctrine divides” dictum.

The theological comment seldom goes beyond this, which is a shame because a discussion on the nature of a doctrineless Christ might show some quite sharp divisions. But in the next few posts I want to look at this matter from the starting point of John’s description of Jesus as God’s Word, or “Logos“, because it seems to be common ground for much of the discussion of Jesus, particularly in his role in the creation. Before I start, I must add a caveat that although a major proponent of Logos theology on BioLogos is Rev Roger Sawtelle, with whom I have interacted extensively there, these thoughts are not primarily a response to his position, but to a somewhat less careful way of doing theology.

The Logos in John 1 has generated a huge scholarly literature, not the matter for a humble blog. But it does seem that John incorporates many streams of Jewish and indirectly even Greek thought in his motif. Almost certainly he drew on the Jewish philosopher Philo, though as a Jew rather than a philosopher himself. Philo borrowed the logos idea from both Stoicism and Platonism. The former gave him the logos as the agent of creation and the active power of God; the latter the logos as the archetypal idea and the intermediary between creation and an unmoved, transcendent God. But Philo combined this with distinctly Biblical, and later Jewish ideas, on the Word of God pictured as an independent being (see Isa 55.11), elaborated as the Word who created the world, the Torah which preceded the creation and so on. He also (not necessarily consistently) equated this “Logos” (word/idea) with “Sophia” (wisdom), particularly on the basis of the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8. Along the way Philo describes the Logos as “second god” (without any sense of denying Jewish monotheism), “the heavenly Adam”, and “man, the word of the eternal God.”

It is unlikely that the fisherman John was a careful student of Philo, and it is certain that he had no truck with some of the Greek philosophy of his work, particularly his Platonism. But one can see even from the brief description above that the general idea of the Logos as a divine intermediary, and some of the Jewish referents, would fit with what he wanted to get across to his readership about the person of Jesus.

Yet the very form of his introduction suggests his main idea is not Philo’s philosophy but the Genesis creation account. “In the beginning was the Word” is obviously reminiscent of “In the beginning God created”, and the fact that God creates through his words – “And God said…” – shows the basis of how John conceives the relationship between Christ and God. I hope that gives some taste of what “The Logos” in John’s prologue encompasses.

Given the richness of this picture, I want to point out to you an interesting observation. Jesus, described as “Logos“, appears in v1 twice, and again in v14. The idea itself occupies the whole prologue, up to v18. But after that, John doesn’t refer to it again throughout his entire gospel. Actually, I suggest that’s not quite true. The very last verse of John (21.25) says that if everything Jesus did were written down, John supposes the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. That’s plainly hyperbole – unless it’s an allusion back to Jesus as the Logos through whom all God’s works are done, of which the words (logoi) describing them would fill the world.

Nevertheless, the body of John’s gospel makes no further reference to Jesus as the Logos. That means there are just three uses of the term, and one might conclude it’s a rather thin basis on which to build an entire Logos Theology. If it were true, I’d agree. And I do feel that much use of “Logos” regarding Jesus is little more than speculative extrapolation from John 1. But in fact, neither the use of the word “logos“, nor of the real ideas behind it, ceases in John’s gospel after the prologue. I’ll begin to look at that in the next post, if you’re interested.

Avatar photo

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.
This entry was posted in Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply