Friday, December 12, 2014

Whence the LOGOS of John 1:1-18?

There is substantial evidence that the Apostle John did not borrow pagan ideas to formulate his idea of the LOGOS. Of course, we all know that the term LOGOS has a long history in Greek literature and was used in ancient writings to possibly describe an immutable and necessary rational ordering-principle (Heraclitus) or "the meaningful structure of reality as a whole and of the human mind in particular" (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, page 12).

Certain scholars have also wondered whether the word LOGOS denotes a primal cognate of the universe in Greek literature, while others point to Philo's LOGOS as somewhat of a locus classicus for John's LOGOS.

Despite the signifier's prolific use in Greek literature, however, it appears that John's
deployment of the term is firmly rooted in ideas from the Tanakh:

"While the term is Greek, the roots of the Johannine meaning seem to be more in Jewish-Hebrew soil" (Gerald Borchert, John 1-11, page 104). Cf. Ps. 33:6; Prov. 8:22-35.

"This word [LOGOS] was used by many ancient philosophies, but we must not import their meanings into this passage. John gives the LOGOS its own meaning; the standpoint is that of the Old Testament" (AT Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, page 185).


Duncan said...


I agree with your final quote.

OT undertanding which I somewhat different to the OT filtered through Philo or other Hellenistic writings.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, I must admit that I find Michael Marlowe's view hard to dismiss:

"My own opinion is that the contemporary Hellenistic understanding of logos in theological contexts (esp. in Philo) should not be discounted by those who wish to understand John's meaning. The contrasts between Philo and John, which the scholars here want to emphasize, should not obscure the fact that John is using a word which was already full of meaning for Jewish readers in his day. When he asserts that the logos became flesh he is indeed saying something that was never dreamt of by Philo or the Greek philosophers; but in all other respects it is their logos — the cosmic Mediator between God and the world, who is the personification of God's Truth and Wisdom — that John is referring to when he asserts that Christ is its incarnation."

Noteworthy is Philo's view that the logos is called God only improperly, and I've long wondered whether Justin Martyr took is "second God" Christology from both Philo and John. What was an attribute for Philo became a real person for John, thereby reshaping the view of the great Hellenistic philosopher's view in light of Christ.


Edgar Foster said...

good thoughts, Kaz. I'm not so averse to linking Philo with John as I am placing the LOGOS of Heraclitus or the Stoics in the same category. Philo is a likely candidate although certainty seems to elude us in this matter.

Please see my blog post for today on this issue.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Good points, Edgar, here and in the subsequent blog post. And I certainly agree that certainty alludes us. At least I think I certainly agree;-)

I've gone back and forth on this question over the years, leaning towards one interpretation then the other, and I ultimately came to favor the view that John may have used LOGOS as a sort of bridging term. He may have done so to help both Jew and Greek to reach a more richly textured understanding of the Son. Maybe John was taking Paul's lead in attempting to be all things to everyone.