Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Semantics of the Greek Term LOGOS

Many of you are probably quite familiar with the listings and examples in BAGD Greek-English Lexicon [now BDAG] for the word LOGOS. But for the benefit of others, here is what this lexicon has to say:

1a. Speaking (generally, a word). See Matt. 22:46; 1 Pet. 3:1.

1B. Statement, question, pastoral counseling, preaching, prophecy, command,

report, story, proclamation, instruction (1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 1:9; James 3:2).

1g. A statement of definite content (Matt. 12:32).

1d. "The [plural] (oi) LOGOI is used (1) either of words uttered on various

occasions, of speeches made here and there (Matt. 12:37a).

1e. The subject under discussion (Acts 8:21).

1z. Of written words and speeches and of the separate books of a particular

work (Acts 1:1).

1b. Of revelation by God (and of the divine disclosure through Christ).

Cf. Heb. 13:7.

2. Computation or reckoning (1 Pet. 3:15).

2b. Settlement of an account (Matt. 18:23; 25:19).

2c. Respect, regard (1 Samuel 10:1 LXX).

2d. Reason, motive (Matt. 5:32).

2e. "With whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13).

2f. Have a concern for wisdom (possible meaning). Cf. Col. 2:23.

3. The Logos. This sense needs to be quoted directly from BAGD: "Our lit. shows traces of a way of thinking that was widespread in contemporary syncretism, as well as in Jewish wisdom lit. and Philo, the most prominent feature of which is the concept of the Logos, the independent, personified 'Word' (of God): J 1:1a, b, c, 14. It is the distinctive teaching that this divine 'Word' took on human form in a historical person, that is, in Jesus."

On this last point, John Burnet cites the famous Heraclitean fragment that he lists as R.P. 32, in which Heraclitus of Ephesus uses the term LOGOS in this way:


"Though the Word [LOGOS] is true evermore, ye men are as unable to understand it when they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word [LOGOS], men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it truly is. But other men know not what they're doing when awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep."

Burnet then makes the following remarks:

"The LOGOS is primarily the discourse of Heraclitus himself; though, as he is a prophet, we may call it his 'word.' It can neither mean a discourse addressed to Heraclitus nor yet 'reason'" (_Early Greek Philosophy_. P. 133).

Burnet adds: "In any case, the Johannine doctrine of the LOGOS has nothing to do with Heraclitus or with anything at all in Greek philosophy, but comes from the Hebrew Wisdom literature."

See Rendel Harris, "The Origin of the Prologue to St. John's Gospel," in _The Expositor_, 1916, pp. 147 sqq.

Hopefully these comments will shed light on the LOGOS definition.

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