The Logos

By: Justin Carnley

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3, ESV)

Does God exist? What is the meaning of life? Is ethics just a matter of opinion, or do objective moral rules exist that are binding on every person? Can anyone prove what the truth is on such ultimate issues, or must we accept them just as matters of faith? These are questions that man has spent countless years wrestling with. The ancient Greek philosophers pursued the answers to these critical questions by searching for ultimate truth, the supreme reality that lies behind everything visible and invisible. As the Greek philosophers considered the questions of truth, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and more, they began to use the word logos to describe the ultimate reality that would bring unity to all of the diversity they saw in the universe. This logos was an organizing principle, that which gives life and meaning to the universe. Consequently, the ancient Greeks thought of the logos as an impersonal force, which does not interact with the world in a personal, tangible way. As is common in English translations, the Greek term logos is translated as “Word.” This is the basic meaning of logos, and we find this meaning in several English words. For example, we have the disciplines of biology (a word about living things) and theology (a word about God). However, in ancient Greek, as mentioned earlier, logos had much more profound significance than just “word.” Therefore, it is not surprising that John used the term logos when he wrote his gospel, for he knew that Greek culture would understand what he meant. Yet John did not simply copy the word as it was used in Greek philosophy, but he alters it, injecting it with biblical content. John begins his gospel by using the Greek idea of “ultimate reality” or “organizing principle” to show how his idea of logos is personal and can be grasped by human beings.

One example in the New Testament, where these opposing ideas of the term logos collided, was at Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34). Mars Hill is the Roman name for a hill in Athens, Greece, called the Hill of Ares or the Areopagus. Rising almost 380 feet above the land below and not far from the Acropolis (a settlement, especially a citadel, built upon an area of elevated ground) and Agora (marketplace), Mars Hill served as the meeting place for the Areopagus Court, the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal and religious matters. Even under Roman rule Mars Hill remained an important meeting place where philosophy, religion, and law were discussed. Mars Hill is biblically significant because, at the time of his visit to Athens during his second missionary journey, Paul gives one of his most important gospel presentations. The city of Athens was the center of Greek philosophy. Thales, Anaximander, Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had all lived and taught there. Each was seeking the one “ultimate principle” or logos by which everything would find its proper meaning and significance. Thales believed that ultimately, everything is water, while Plato and Aristotle claimed that ultimately, everything is “being.” Therefore, if everything in the world is “being”, then everything is divine to some degree. Eventually this led the city of Athens, the city of philosophy, to also become the city of idols. It was where Paul addressed the religious idolatry of the Greeks who even had an altar to the “Unknown God.”
During Paul’s day the philosophers in Athens were organized into two groups. The Epicureans argued that men should seek pleasure by living moderately. The Stoics argued that men should seek independence and self-sufficiency by suppressing their desires. Both groups were continually seeking for the newest ideas and philosophies, the Epicureans because of their quest for new pleasures, and the Stoics because of their quest for more self-sufficiency. Thus, when Paul arrived in Athens with a strange new teaching, they were immediately intrigued by him. They wanted to hear about this new “strange things.” Paul started his message by addressing their false beliefs and then used those beliefs as a way of presenting the gospel message to them. His sermon is a classic example of apologetics in action. Apologetics may be simply defined as the defense of the Christian faith. The word “apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, which was originally used as a speech of defense. In our day it has become customary to use the term apology to refer to a specific effort or work in defense of the faith. An apology might be a written document, a speech, or even a film. Apologists develop their defenses of the Christian faith in relation to scientific, historical, philosophical, ethical, religious, theological, or cultural issues.

Paul’s discussion with the Epicureans and Stoics is a great example of the value of apologetics, both as a means of defense and persuasion of the Christian faith. He goes back to Genesis and to the beginning of creation to form that actual defense and persuasion. Those gathered that day needed to hear what THE ultimate reality in the universe was like before they would understand the message of the gospel. Paul begins explaining to them the sovereign God who created all things and “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything”. He continues his message by explaining their need to repent of their rebellion against Him. Paul completes that message by introducing them to the One before whom they would all stand one day and be judged—Jesus Christ, who the Divine Word. He is the One who was there “in the beginning,” before all things (Gen. 1:1). The organizing principle behind all things is the personal Creator who loves His people. It is in Him that “we live and move and have our being”. He is the logos!


“What Is Apologetics?”, in The Apologetics Study Bible

“Introduction”, in Philosophy For Dummies by Tom Morris, Ph.D.

ESV Study Bible

Does God Exist? Building the Scientific Case (DVD teaching series)

The Consequences of Ideas: An Overview of Philosophy (DVD teaching series)


One comment

  1. I took a class on the Gospel of John in seminary and we talked about some of what you wrote about here. Good stuff. Thanks!

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