The prologue to John’s Gospel is a rich proclamation of Christian theology with its roots in Old Testament Scripture. It confronts the competing worldviews that have largely dominated the philosophical atmosphere of human history. While much of this series has centered around John’s use of logos in John 1:1-18, it’s worthwhile to take a look at it in other areas of his Gospel, along with his use of another Greek word of similar meaning, rheema (ῥῆμα). While rheema, singular, doesn’t occur in John’s Gospel, rheemata (ῥήματα), plural, does. In chapter 3 of Dr. Gordon Clark’s book, The Johannine Logos, Dr. Clark first looks at the use of logos by itself and then looks at the verses where logos and rheemata are used together.1 This post will present some of those highlights.
In Part 3 of this series I demonstrated the translation of John 1:1 as ‘In the beginning was the Wisdom (of God) and the Wisdom (of God) was with God and the Wisdom (of God) was God.‘ Using that as a spring board, I went to Proverbs, particularly chapters 8 and 9, where Wisdom is personified. Having defined logos as the idea of reasoning, or the expression of thought, we can now look at its usage elsewhere in John’s Gospel. As should become evident, the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the Memra is the absolute starting point for everything.
Direct Statements Or Teachings
There are a few different ways that these occurrences could be categorized. The first is to look at when logos refers to a direct statement or message. To start, John 2:18-22 reads:
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.2
I italicized word in verse 22 because that Greek word is logos. The disciples believed the Scripture and the logos that Jesus had spoken. Here, the logos is the statement “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” However, the logos isn’t the literal statement, but what Dr. Clark calls the intellectual content of the statement or teaching.3 Note that the disciples believed the Scripture (most likely Psalm 69:9 in particular since it was just quoted in John 2:17) and the logos. Therefore, the statement has an intended meaning and the logos in this verse is the intellectual content of the statement.
Another verse worth looking at is John 6:60. The verse reads:
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
Here, saying is the Greek word logos, the verse may more literally be: This is hard, the logos; who can hear it? In this instance the logos doesn’t refer to any one statement, it refers, instead, to the entire teaching of John 6:22-59. In this teaching, Christ symbolically discusses his death and resurrection and that belief and trust in what he is teaching brings eternal life. For some background to this, please see my post The Lamb’s Supper by Dr. Scott Hahn, Part 3; John 6. The word for listen in this verse is akouo (ἀκούω) and would be like saying “who can accept this?” It’s not that the logos is simply something to understand, it is something to agree with, to trust in.
Dr. Clark also notes instances where the logos is referencing Old Testament quotations. One that I’ll address here is John 12:36-43 which reads:
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
Here, both Isaiah 53:1, 6:10 are what the logos refers to and an example of the logos being fulfilled. Interestingly, the passage itself is addressing the fact that despite all the signs Jesus performed, people refused to believe in Him, the logos, the Wisdom, the Memra, the Logic, the Word of God.
Indirect Statements Or Teachings
Another category is where the logos indirectly references a statement or teaching. In these instances, the logos is clearly referring to a previous statement or teaching but it isn’t recorded. John 5:22-24 reads:
The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
In this case, as it was in John 2:22, word is logos: “Whoever hears my logos and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” The logos, in this instance, doesn’t refer to a specifically quoted statement or teaching. It could, perhaps, refer to the teaching Jesus is giving in this passage, that He and The Father are one and all judgement has been given by The Father to The Son. Notice the obligation to trust in the logos, that act of trusting in the logos leads to eternal life, just as it did in John 6:60.
With that in mind, look at John 5:36-38:
For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.
Again, word is logos: “…you do not have his (the Father’s) logos abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” Jesus points to his works, that they testify to whom he is and states that those who do not believe him do not have his Father’s logos, his doctrine, his theology, his truth.
Logos And Rheemata
Turning to the contrast between logos and rheema, it’s important to understand how rheema may be defined. Dr. Clark states that rheemata in a very literal sense are the sounds that come out of one’s mouth when one speaks, although rheemata, of course, will refer to words that are written down as well and Dr. Clark notes this.4 The UBS Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament also confirms this:
ῥῆμα , τος n what is said, word, saying; thing, matter, event, happening5
To be sure, there is some overlap between logos and rheemata so if we are going to make any distinctions we should be careful in doing so. The primary distinction is that Jesus is never called the rheema but He is called the logos. The secondary distinction is that rheemata may be the literal words as symbols that have meaning while logos is the intellectual content or meaning of the words. As an example, the word cat is a rheema, or word, that symbolizes the animal we call a cat. Dr. Clark is careful to make sure that the symbols are not treated as less than the thing symbolized. He writes:
…people other than philosophers and semanticists hardly think about these distinctions. Most of the time they keep in mind the thing symbolized, even though they may mention the symbol. But in an anti-theological epileptical seizure they will sometimes inveigh against mere words, forgetting the truths they stand for.6
The point is that words have meaning and if we are to attempt to strip that from the words, then nonsense is all that is left. How incredibly stupid that would be, and the first occurrence of rheemata in John’s Gospel will demonstrate that. John 3:33-36 has John the Baptist speaking of Jesus, pointing to Jesus. It reads:
33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
The implications of John 3:33, that God is truth, cannot be removed from John 3:34 or anywhere else in Scripture. Since God is truth and Jesus is the fullness of truth (John 1:14, 14:6) and has been given the Spirit without measure, then naturally the rheemata, the words that Jesus utters are truth. They contain the divine authority of God and cannot be placed at a lower level than the logos.
John 12:48 contains both logos and rheemata:
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
Here, the one who rejects Jesus and does not accept his rheemata will be judged by the logos that he has spoken. The rheemata here are the words of Christ, perhaps the sermon, the message, while the logos, the teaching, the doctrine is the judge. Of course, Christ here has spoken the logos as well. It’s also worth pointing out that the Greek word for spoken is laleo (λαλέω) which connotes hostility against something or someone in an accusatory sense. Further, we know that Christ Himself is the judge, the logos, since God the Father has given all judgement to the Son, as John 5:22 states. I think it is appropriate to close on that note because it comes full circle. The logos in the prologue is still the logos in John 12:48 and He utters the very words of God.
There are many other examples that could be discussed but this should suffice to illustrate a few things. In John 1:14 it is said that Jesus is the fullness of grace and truth and in John 14:6 Jesus says He is the truth. In John 3:34 it is said that Jesus utters the very words of God and God is truth. The relationship between Jesus and truth cannot be severed. Jesus is the Wisdom of God in John 1:1 who gives light to all men in John 1:9. The universe was created by and through the Wisdom of God in John 1:3 therefore we can say the governing principle that the universe operates on is the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the Memra.
The propositions, the teachings, the doctrines, the logos given by Christ is the very mind of Christ. It is reasonable, therefore, to say that logic is the way that God thinks. God is not capricious, nor does he operate in an illogical or irrational fashion. Words have meaning and the meaning cannot be severed from the words no matter how hard people try to today. Of course, people don’t live as though there is no truth or that logic is simply a convention. Every time we speak or think or act, we are engaging intellectual content. The very fact that this sentence gives off any meaning at all means that there is intellectual content behind it that cannot be removed from it. The Christian can say that without the Wisdom of God, knowledge would be impossible. In other words, logic is objective and is grounded in the Wisdom of God. The fact that human beings are rational can only be because human beings were made in the image of God. Anyone attempting to be rational without acknowledging God is simply borrowing from the Christian worldview.
- Much of the content of this post finds its source in The Johannine Logos by Dr. Gordon Clark, however this post is only a brief sketch. Dr. Clark’s book is available through The Trinity Foundation and it will be an incredible asset to anyone’s library. This post is by no means meant to be a replacement for the book or chapter. ↩
- All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. Emphasis mine. ↩
- Clark, Gordon. (1989). The Johannine Logos (48). Jefferson, MD; The Trinity Foundation ↩
- Same as footnote 3; Page 52. ↩
- Newman, B. M. (1993). A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. (159). Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies. ↩
- Same as footnote 3; Page 53. ↩
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