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What is the Logos?

Updated on July 14, 2011

The “Logos” of John 1:1 - “In the beginning was the word (logos) and the word (logos) was with God and the word (logos) was God.” “Logos” is a complex Greek word which had been used since the 5th century BCE by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Logos does not mean a written 'word' (which would be “lexis”), rather it is a word with a fluid & diverse meaning. So much so that I rather keep it as “logos” rather than put forth a translation. The word logos can mean or be translated as reason, purpose, principle, account, thought, etc, etcetera, e...t...cetera.

However, the meaning of the word logos and if or if not the word should be translated is not the issue here. Rather, what is the logos? What is the logos of the Gospel of John? The logos of Heraclitus is different from the logos of the philosophical school of Stoics which is different from the logos as used by the infamous philosopher Aristotle. So how is the Apostle John's logos unique? Again, what is this logos?

It is common sense that if one introduces a new term to people (via a paper or whatever), the author defines & explains the term. However, there is no given explanation asides for a theological interpretation (expansion) of the word (term – logos). Thus, the term logos was known by John's intended audience. So the next question is, who was John's audience?

There is no evidence that John preached to the gentiles (non Jews – Goyim). He is said to have gone out of Judea and up to Asia Minor (possibly for a great length of time), however, Jewish communities were well known to be located in Asia Minor cities. But a scriptural confirmation of who John preached to, Jew, Gentile or both, would be great; and thankfully there is such a verse. Galatians 2:9

“and when James and Cephas (Peter) and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the gentiles and they to the circumcised (Jews).”

Thus, John was a preacher to the Jews. But maybe, just maybe, John preached in the homes & streets to Jews and wrote to the Gentiles or preached to the Gentiles later on. Well, the early Church Fathers (early Christian writers / leaders) say why John wrote his gospel (written around 90 CE). They state that the Gospel of John was written in response to the heretical sect known as the “Ebionites”.

The Ebionites, active for the first few hundred years of the Christian era, are mentioned by Justin Martyr (c. 140 CE), Irenaeus (c. 180 CE), Origen (c. 212 CE) and others. They were a Jewish-Christian sect which stuck with the Torah (Law of Moses) and so denounced Paul & all of his letters. Likewise they only kept the Gospel of Matthew (rejecting Mark & Luke prior to John's) as scriptural. The sect may have begun following the Council of Jerusalem (approx. 50 CE), where James the Just (Bishop of Jerusalem) argued with Paul over the Christian standing of the Torah –which ended pretty neutrally. As the Torah was downplayed in the council, a percentage of Jewish Christians broke away to keep the Torah's high regard –thus the Ebionites were born.

Because John gospel was written against the Ebionite view, it would have been aimed towards the Ebionite's audience, Jews. Thus it was the Jews which were the target of the Gospel of John –Jews were the readers thereof.

Because the Jews were the audience, Logos would not have been included in John's gospel with its Greek philosophical meaning –especially without explaining it. Having traveled Asia Minor, John may have known of the Greek version, however, his audience would not. So, is there a Jewish Logos? For a Jewish version of the term “Logos” would make perfect sense as to why the term lacks an explanation within the text.

Philo of Alexandria was the earliest known Jewish philosopher. He, as with all the great ones, influenced many people & schools of thought. Philo was born in 20 BCE and passed out of the world in 50 CE, around the same year as the Council of Jerusalem. He, being raised in Alexandria, was fluent in Greek. He was indeed one of the privileged class –as were most philosophers until Epictetus (55-135 CE) who was born a slave. Most of his works, which are many, were commentaries related to the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible). However, Philo, as a philosopher, interpreted a lot of things and put together a numerical system that would later be adopted by the early Kabbalists (Jewish mysticists). Another thing that Philo discussed was the “Logos.”

Yes, not only was Philo, a Jew, writing about the logos before the Gospel of John, but was writing about it before the crucifixion of Jesus.

To the great Plato, the logos was the “Demiurge”, a intermediary between God & the universe. To Philo, the logos was likewise a demiurge, however, this demiurge was a being, rather than a force, which did the will of God. Philo explained its attributes (or titles):

  1. The “highest” of all intermediary-beings (including Angels)

  2. The “first born of God”

  3. Creator (aids God in creation)

  4. The “man of God” (as in God's “shadow” –in the likeness of God)

  5. The “mind of God”

The Logos has a beginning, an origination, according to Philo. However, the logos is likewise eternal in the sense that it always existed in the thought's of God prior to its begetting.

As Philo was a great commentator on the Torah, he saw that the Logos can indeed be found in the Torah & other parts of the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Prophets). Throughout the Torah, and even more so through the Prophets, is the Hebrew word “dabar”. Dabar is Hebrew for “word” –a spoken word. Dabar is mostly used with the context of “the word of the LORD” (ha'dabar HaShem).

“The word (dabar) or the LORD came to Hosea...” Hosea 1:1.

“The word (dabar) of the LORD came to me...” Ezekiel 24:15.

The Dabar was seen as, not a literal spoken word by God, but rather as a being that told people God's words –i.e. an intermediary.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, dabar is usually translated as logos instead of lexis.

For Christians, the similarities between Jesus and Philo's Logos are obvious; both being the son / first born of God, both aiding in creation, Paul saying that Jesus is the "wisdom (or mind) of God”, etc. But Jesus is never named in the Old Testament prophecies and so the question remains; what / who is the Logos?

Thankfully Philo flat-out states who the Logos is:

The Angel of the LORD”.(Hebrew - “ha'mal'akh HaShem”, Greek - “ho-angellos ho-Kryios”)

The Angel of the LORD is found in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges and some of the Prophets such as Zechariah (as “the Angel of God”). The Angel of the LORD is not just some unnamed angel as it is not written as “an angel...” but rather always as “the Angel...” (“the” being ha/he or ho/ton in Hebrew & Greek respectively). It is a unique being always doing God's will –bringing God's words to a person or people. The Angel of the LORD is the being which came to Jacob, Moses (in the Burning Bush), Joshua (before the fall of Jericho), Gideon (before the war against the Midianites) and others. In the book of Joshua, The Angel of the LORD explains that he is in charge of the armies of God. Philo, through this as evidence, saw that this so-called Angel was above the angels and so a unique being. When the Angel of the LORD delivers a message from God, he speaks in the first-person –speaking God's message word for word– such as “I am the God of Beth'el” Genesis 31:11-13.

Philo seemed to equate the Angel of the LORD with other names / titles found in the Bible. Such examples include: “The Angel of the Covenant” in Malachi & “the Angel of the Presence” from Isaiah, Deuteronomy & Exodus. Interestingly, the book of Exodus has God telling the Israelites to follow this being's commands (“obey his voice” Exodus 23:21).

This connection of the Angel of the LORD to the Logos (dabar) was probably well known in Israel by the time of John's Gospel, as the Jews of Alexandria had a lot of contact to those in Israel (Judea).

This shows that John was telling the Ebionites that Jesus was the Angel of the LORD. But why? Wasn't the heresy of the Ebionites their continuation of the Torah? Yes, but they held to another heresy, that known as “Adoptionism.” Adoptionism was the idea that Jesus was but a man and only became the son of God when he was baptized by John the Baptist. Thus, John telling them that Jesus was the Angel of the LORD is saying that Jesus was a being & the son of God prior to his earthly birth.

But if this connection (of Jesus to the Angel of the LORD) is the proper meaning, wouldn't early Christians have known this? Yes, and they did.

Justin Martyr (103-165) was a great early Christian writer who even wrote apologies to the Roman Senate & Emperors. Another of his works in the “Dialogue with Trypho”, a long debate between himself and Trypho, a renowned Jewish teacher / philosopher. Justin explains to Trypho that Jesus, in his pre-human existence, was the one who spoke with Moses via the Burning Bush; where the Biblical verses say that it is The Angel of the LORD speaking.

“And that Christ being Lord, and God, Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush...” - Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 128.

In the same chapter, Justin connects Jesus to the Angel who spoke to Joshua & Abraham. Later, Justin likewise connects Jesus to the same Angel who spoke to Gideon. All places, besides with Abraham, state in the scriptures that the being is the Angel of the LORD. In Justin's First Apology, chapter 63, Justin repeats this connection.

Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) is credited for “The History of the Church”, the earliest written details of early Christianity's timeline from Jesus to his time. Despite being known as a historian, Eusebius was also theologically involved in the Church's debates about the Trinity.

In his work, Eusebius begins with a theological explanation of Christianity.

“He was the first and only-begotten of God; the commander-in-chief of the spiritual and immortal host of heaven...”, quoting the attribute of the Angel of the LORD in Joshua 5:14, “...the angel of mighty counsel...”, quoting Isaiah 9:4.

“The name which Moses' successor Joshua gave to Him, as Leader of the Heavenly angels and archangels and of the celestial powers, and as the Power and Wisdom of the Father, entrusted with the second place in the kingship and rule over all things, was Commander-in-chief of the army of the Lord; yet Joshua, like the others, saw Him only in human form and shape.” 'Him' is Jesus and so the connection is obvious. Eusebius, like Justin, saw that the Angel of the LORD was Jesus himself prior to his human incarnation.

So, if this is the case, why was this knowledge not passed down?

Eusebius was not a Trinitarian and this put him in a bad position, having lived during the final say of yes to the Trinity. In the Synodal letter of the Council of Antioch (325 CE), “Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine” is said to be one of those not being in agreement with the Trinity. Eusebius later agreed with the Trinity (in its early form) in saying, in the same way Philo discussed the Logos, that Jesus is eternal by having been in God's mind for eternity.

The Angel of the LORD connection with Jesus was not only used by non-Trinitarians, but also by a few Trinitarian. This is because it was (and is) debated in Jewish & Christian circles as to weither or not the Angel of the LORD is a manifestation of God or a separate being. When the Angel of the LORD says “I am your God”, is it God himself stating it, or is it an independent being relaying the words of God?

I think that the connection of Jesus to this so-called Angel was dropped by the Church to prevent the debate from bringing anti-Trinitarian arguments back to the table. Evidence for this is the resurgence of Adoptionism (i.e. a non-Trinity theology) during the Middle-Ages which used the Angel of the LORD verses in the Old Testament as evidence for their ideas.

Search the internet and you will find that many Christians have brought this connection back to life today, seeing the Angel as a pre-incarnate Jesus.

Thus, to answer what is the “Logos” of John, we can safely say that the Logos (Jesus) is the Old Testament “the Angel of the LORD.”


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    • BukowskiBabe profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Somewhere in the middle of it all.

      B, it's a confusing concept/doctrine still debated by Christians today. Thank you for reading, your comment, and having an open mind.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm always intrigued by the ideas logos and phoebes. Though I must admit, I have only basic concepts. After reading this hub, I think I'm getting into the depth. Another reading and perhaps I will comprehend in finality.


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