The Logos, part 1
Aug 22, 2019
In John 1:1-5 the apostle introduces his gospel of Christ in this way:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by [dia, “through”] Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
John’s introduction sets the stage for the rest of his gospel It was designed mainly to show how Jesus Christ manifested the glory of the Father in the earth, essentially bringing heaven to earth. Christ bore witness to His Father, and John the Baptist bore witness to Christ (John 1:6, 7). The idea of the double witness was also a prominent theme in John’s gospel.
The Logos: Greek and Hebrew
The big historical question, of course, is who (or what) is the Logos, here translated “Word.” Should we adopt the Greek view, as did the Gnostics, or should we adopt the Hebrew concept?
It appears that the first philosopher to use the term Logos in relation to a divine being was Heraclitus about 500 B.C. shortly after the Babylonian captivity of Judah. He saw the Logos as the underlying principle of Order in the world.
During the period of the Grecian empire and into the time of Roman domination, Jewish thought and their biblical interpretations were often heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers. Historians call it the Hellenization of Judaism. The Book of Jubilees 12:4, written in Greek and dated from 200-150 B.C., portrays Abram telling his idolatrous father, Terah,
4 Worship the God of heaven, who sends down dew and rain upon the earth and does everything upon the earth and has created everything through his word and all living things are from before his face.
The Wisdom of Solomon 9:1, 2 (dated in the first century B.C.) has Solomon praying for wisdom in this way:
1 O God of my fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things with thy word 2 and ordained man through thy wisdom, that he should have dominion over the creatures which thou hast made, 3 and order the world according to equity and righteousness, and execute judgment with an upright heart: 4 give me wisdom….
In both cases, God is seen creating all things through His word (logos). The Septuagint translation of the Scriptures from Hebrew to Greek (280-250 B.C.) renders Psalm 33:4-6,
4 For the word [logos] of the Lord is right; and all his works are faithful. 5 He loves mercy and judgment; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord. 6 By the word [logos] of the Lord the heavens were established; and by the breath of His mouth all their host.
In this case, the Greek word logos is seen to be the equivalent of the Hebrew word davar, “word.” Since the Septuagint served as the main Hebrew-Greek dictionary in the first century, we ought to use this as our standard in defining Greek words in terms of their Hebrew meanings.
The first-century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, who lived from about 20 B.C. to 40 A.D., spoke of the Logos as the angel of God’s Wisdom and also as the First-born Son of God. He derived his teachings on Wisdom from Proverbs 8, where Wisdom is personified (as a desirable woman), So Proverbs 8:22-30 reads,
22 The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. 23 From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth… 27 When He established the heavens, I was there… 29 when He set for the sea its boundary, so that the water should not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; 30 then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.
Paul himself equated Christ to the Wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:30,
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
The fact that wisdom was personified as a woman does not undermine the idea that Jesus was the wisdom of God, for Paul says that in the spirit there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28). In fact, in the law the sacrifices included both male and female goats (Leviticus 4:23, 28). A male was sacrificed for the sin of leaders; a female was sacrificed for the sin of the congregation. The difference has to do with relationships in regard to authority.
Hence also, when “the only begotten God” was brought forth by the Father (John 1:18), the underlying purpose was to provide a double witness for creation. Similarly, God took Eve out of Adam to provide a double witness for him in the marriage relationship. Insofar as Christ was the Firstborn Son, He was male, but insofar as He was taken from God’s side to provide a double witness in creation, He was female.
The law is said to be “wisdom” in Deuteronomy 4:5, 6, and the law of the double witness is a display of that wisdom. For this reason, Christ is the Wisdom of God, portrayed as a woman rejoicing at the creation of all things.
One of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS 1QS XI:11) reads this way in Hebrew,
“By [God’s] knowledge everything came to be, and everything which is happening—He establishes it by his design and without him [nothing] is done.”
The same Scroll (1:19, 20) reads,
“By the wisdom of thy knowledge thou didst establish their destiny ere they came into being, according to [thy will] everything came to be, and without thee [nothing] is done.”
This scroll reads much like the beginning of John’s gospel. The writer’s viewpoint was not taken from Heraclitus but from the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis, where we read that “God said…,” and from Deuteronomy 1:1, “These are the words….” Deuteronomy 1:1 uses davar in Hebrew but logos in the Septuagint Greek.
The Living Word in Hebrew Thought
In Jesus’ time, boys were expected to memorize the book of Leviticus by the time they were five. They were expected to have all five books of the Torah memorized by the time they were twelve. If they showed aptitude, a rabbi might come to them and say, “Follow me,” and if he did so, he would be trained in the tradition of that rabbi until the age of thirty, after which time he himself would be recognized as a rabbi.
None of Jesus’ disciples had shown such aptitude, for most of them had become fishermen. But Rabbi Jesus called them, and they followed. Normally, in rabbinical school, the students were expected to learn the mind of their teacher and not to deviate from it. They were to come into the image of their rabbi and bear witness of his teachings thereafter. The same could be said of Jesus’ disciples.
Some rabbis, however, distinguished themselves above their peers. If two other rabbis bore witness, the distinguished rabbi became a rabbi with authority, who could then create his own “yoke” (discipleship training) that differed from his earlier mentor. In Jesus’ case, the Father in heaven and John the Baptist on earth bore witness of Him (John 5:33, 37), making Him a rabbi with authority. His yoke was based on entering God’s rest, as Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30,
28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.
In Luke 20:2 men questioned Jesus’ authority, because His teachings were innovative as if He were a rabbi with authority.
2 … “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”
In my view, Jesus’ early training came from His mother’s uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who, as a member of the Sanhedrin, was a distinguished rabbi in his own right. No doubt Joseph bore witness of Jesus and certainly learned much from Jesus Himself. Would not Joseph have recognized Jesus as a rabbi with authority? Likewise, John the Baptist bore witness of Him when he received revelation that Jesus was the Messiah.
There was one further step in the upward climb of a rabbi that was reserved only for the Messiah. It was called the memrah, the idea that the rabbi with authority was so perfected that his very life was the fulfillment of the law. He was the word made flesh. That is, he lived the word of God by manifestation. The Jewish Encyclopedia says in Vol. VIII, pages 464-465, 1904 edition,
MEMRA (= “Ma’amar” or “Dibbur,” “Logos”): “The Word,” in the sense of the creative or directive word of speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for “the Lord” when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided….
“The Memra,” instead of “the Lord,” is “the consuming fire” (Targ. Deut. ix. 3, comp. Targ. Isa. xxx. 27). The Memra “plagued the people” (Targ. Yer. to Ex. xxxii. 35.)
“Not His “hand,” but His “Memra has laid the foundation of the earth” (Targ. Isa. xlviii. 13)…
Like the Shekinah (comp. Targ. Num. xxiii. 21), the Memrah is accordingly the manifestation of God. “The Memra brings Israel nigh unto God and sits on His throne receiving the prayers of Israel” (Targ. Yer. to Deut. iv. 7)….
As in ruling over the destiny of man the Memra is the agent of God (Targ. Yer. to Num. xxvii. 16), so also is it in the creation of the earth (Isa. xlv. 12), and in the execution of justice (Targ. Yer. to Num. xxxiii. 4). So, in the future, shall the Memra be the comforter (Targ. Isa. lxvi. 13): “My Shekinah I shall put among you, My Memra shall be unto you for a redeeming deity, and you shall be unto My Name a holy people” (Targ. Yer. to Lev. xxii. 12). “My Memra shall be unto you like a good plowman who takes off the yoke from the shoulder of the oxen.”
The Jewish Encyclopedia also notes that the idea of the Memra was expressed by the early Christians by the Greek term, Logos. We read further on page 465,
“In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term “Logos,” in the sense of “the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man,” was changed into “Christ” (see “Apostolic Constitutions,” vii. 25-26, 34-38, et al.). Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of Targum literature, made little use of the term “Memra.”
John gives Jesus’ credentials, saying, “In the beginning was the memra,” translated into Greek as the Logos, “the word.” It was used to represent God when He manifested Himself on earth. (Another word is the Shekinah.) John looked at the Messiah in the same way that the people looked at the memra. It is the “image” of God. Hebrews 1:3 reflects the same belief, saying,
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
Jesus fulfilled the expectations of the Memra, but He was rejected because He did not use that power to release Judah from its captivity to Rome. Likewise, Jesus’ “yoke” was unlike that of other rabbis. The Jewish Encyclopedia says on page 465,
“My Memra shall be unto you like a good plowman who takes off the yoke from the shoulder of the oxen.”
Jesus criticized the yokes that the other rabbis had placed upon the shoulders of their disciples, saying in Matthew 23:4,
4 And they tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
This is repeated in Luke 11:46. The yoke of the rabbis was far heavier than Jesus’ yoke, because the rabbis had added numerous burdens to the law of God. Jesus taught a return to the original law, leaving out all the cumbersome traditions that had encrusted the purity of the law itself.
Jesus was the Memra of God, the living Word, that is, the living expression of the mind of God and the essence of His Person-hood. In His earthly ministry, He was the Word personified in human flesh, although after His return to glory, “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” The Memra is the Hebrew view of the Logos, and this is how we ought to interpret the Logos in the introduction to John’s gospel.
This is part 1 of a series titled "The Logos" To view all parts, click the link below.