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Logos

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

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    Logos

    Grk. “word.” In the prologue of the gospel according to John, the logos is the divine word, a self‐communicating divine presence that existed with God and was uniquely manifested in Jesus Christ. The Johannine logos is strongly parallel to the concept of wisdom in Hellenistic Jewish thought, where already wisdom and word were associated (Wisd. of Sol. 9.1–2). Wisdom or Word was God's creative presence through which the world came into being. John's gospel affirms that this same divine presence was fully and (in contrast to the usual thinking about wisdom) uniquely present in Jesus Christ. It was a redemptive presence that was necessary because the world had rejected the original creative presence. The word was not in Jesus simply as verbal communication, but entered fully into human life. The incarnation of the word brought life to human beings, to whom it was otherwise unavailable (John 1.1–18).

    The Johannine prologue is the only fully explicit statement of the theme of incarnation in the New Testament, though the rest of the gospel of John shows in narrative form what the coming of the logos meant. The prologue of the gospel is echoed in 1 John 1.1 (“the word of life”) and in the imagery of Revelation 19.13, where Christ, “the Word of God,” appears as a warrior.

    In the Hebrew Bible, the word of God is both creative (Gen. 1.; Isa. 55.10–11) and commanding (Amos 3.1). This background contributed to the general usage of the term logos in the New Testament, where the “word” often signifies the Christian message (2 Cor. 2.17; cf. 1 Cor. 1.18). This field of meaning was drawn into the interpretation of the logos of John's prologue, but was only indirectly in its background.

    In Greek, logos meant both spoken word and pervading principle. Stoic philosophy, using the latter meaning, saw the logos as the ordering principle of the universe; the wise person aims to live in harmony with it. This meaning, though not a direct background for John's logos, was quickly drawn into the interpretation of John as “logos theology” developed in the second century CE. This was a principal means of making Christian thought intelligible to its environment; but this later logos theology was more rationalistic than was the gospel of John.

    Christ as the logos was an important avenue of development of the doctrine of the Trinity, but logos was eventually largely replaced by other terms (“hypostasis,” “person,”) because logos appeared to make of Christ a second God.

    See also Creation; Philo

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    William A. Beardslee

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