Logos

The Logos

AristotleThis Greek word is pronounced “logos.”  It’s often translated as “word.” It came into the Greek language about the time of Jesus and thereafter was used by the early Christian Church in various ways. We need to ponder those ways before digging into Hebrews.

The Sophists used Logos to mean a discussion or discourse. Aristotle expanded that to mean “a well reasoned argument” in rhetoric.

 

The Stoics believed that Logos is the name for divine and eternal principles that created and pervade the Universe. I sometimes hear people assign to God everything Science has not yet understood. Those people often do not know they’re Stoics. Jewish thinkers (Philo, et al) used the term for work that had previously been understood as the Goddess Sophia (God’s Wisdom or his Wife and partner in creation). Sophia worship was phased out (but the Sophia texts are still available if you’re curious). Logos came to include Divine Wisdom. Modern translations use “Word” for Logos and also for Dabar (a Hebrew word) and also for Rhema (a Greek word for spoken or breathed words). These three different ideas are all translated “Word.” In general, if you read the Jewish Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) and see “Word” it’s Dabar and refers to perfect First Principles and Laws for Everything. Rhema (Word) means the Breath that Animates and matches the modern concept of the Holy Spirit. In New Testament documents, the Logos Incarnate refers to Jesus of Nazareth’s divine and eternal nature.

Is-the-Bible-the-word-of-GodBut none of those is a set of documents decided upon by Church politicians. Modern sermons calling the Bible “The Word Of God” are often really about putting a stamp of approval on the institutional canonization process itself. That process went on for over 1,000 years, until only a few hundred years ago. Books such as Hebrews, James, Jude, Thessalonians, and the Revelation of John were controversial into the 19th Century (and some of those may still be).

Yes, I said Hebrews was controversial, more on that later.

I have no desire to discuss if Baruch or the Book of Wisdom should or should not be read and studied or ignored as God “not-breathed,” nor if 2 Thessalonians is the bogus letter that 1 Thessalonians warned us not to read. “I Believe in the Bible” people have pretty much settled or grew tired of this discussion (read my friend James White of Alpha Omega Ministries for more on this).

Paul wrote (or dictated) his final words to young Timothy where we can read “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” He wasn’t talking about his letter itself, nor anything we have in the “New Testament” (no Gospels had been written yet at that time). He meant the entire body of the Law and Prophets, the Psalms and Writings that Paul had studied his whole life as a Jewish scholar. God’s Logos is much larger than any book. It permeates creation and transcends time. Beware of Idolatry.

How does one interpret “All Scriptures” as they existed for the 1st Century church? If you understand the importance of that question, of the whole question of interpretation in general, we might be ready to tackle the letter to the Hebrews, or at least work our way back in time from today’s ways to interpret Scripture back to the days of yesteryear when the author of Hebrews tried to do what Paul, nearly with his final breath, asked Timothy to do. In fact, that’s the reason some people think Timothy wrote Hebrews. More on that later, too.

15 thoughts on “The Logos

  1. Michael Middleton

    Another red flag for skeptics and thinkers is the occasional preacher who uses words like inerrant and inspired in connection with the Logos, Word of God, while at the same time waving a Bible around… then transitions into interpretation… telling their hearers what it all means for them as if they can’t read or shouldn’t study theology or do their own exegesis. This same behavior can been seen in parts of Islam with the Q’ran. I think any ancient, translated, unreliably copied and ambiguous document can be sold as perfect then interpreted to control believers in that book.

    “All Scripture” in Paul’s lifetime is not the same as “The Bible” that was canonized by Bishops and Kings.

    There is an unnamed divide in religions between those who encourage and enable followers to think and those who want to use mindless emotion to control. You may not believe me on that, in which case I need to find a perfect book and tell you that’s what it says.

  2. Michael Middleton

    There are lots of issues. Yes, every translation is, in effect, an interpretation. But consider that every actor interpretes Shakespeare, sometimes quite differently, and those plays are only 500 years old.

    Hebrews is “an interpretation of Scriptures” to start with, translation aside. Actually with that letter we have originals that closely agree and it’s only one translation (Latin to English). So few words are questionable that we can read it both ways and see which we like ourselves. To me it’s interesting that, with Hebrews, we have in The Bible not only The Bible, but also works that change the meanings of parts of The Bible.

  3. Patrick Middleton

    Never thought about it as an interpretation. It is a letter explaining, teaching, clerifying who Jesus was and is. I guess that also makes it an interpretaion. With the supporting information about Hebrews, pretty easy to demonstrate its reliability. Next is authoritative.

  4. Michael Middleton

    It is a letter to a mixed group of Jews and Christians, the Synagogue in Rome, that interprets well-known scriptures claiming that they anticipated Jesus and show that he’s superior to basically all things Jewish: better than the Aaronic Priesthood, better than annual sacrifices, better than Moses, better than the David kings… and so forth.

    As for “authoritative”… that’s an attribute claimed by or given to the institution that interprets the documents, not the documents themselves. Words on a page have no authority over people’s lives or behaviors, can’t marry people or set up legal systems or punish bad actors and so forth. Authority is claimed by the institution that “owns” the documents and teaches an interpretation of those documents. That’s how it works in all religions and places now and over history. That’s really the core conflict in our pluralistic society and the genius behind separation of Church and State in our Constitution.

  5. Michael Middleton

    People pick and chose what they want to ignore and what they want to apply from everything they read. The Bible is a great example of that part of interpretation: what applies to us, what no longer does? What is clear? What is contradictory or unclear? It is the reader, not without considerable influence by the Church, who make choices. Hebrews isn’t a moral treatise about behaviors anyway… not like James or Leviticus. Is Leviticus authoritative?

  6. Michael Middleton

    Jesus and the Bankers? 🙂

    Some scholars think the letter named James, who might or might not have been Jesus’ biological brother, is a Jewish moralistic homily common for that day with Jesus edited into it, too. James and Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, 2 Thessalonians… these were and remain controversial parts of the canon.

    But back to Hebrews, which part of it do you think has authority for how you live your life? Where are the Dos and Don’ts in there? James, yes. Matthew 6, yes… but I don’t see “authority” in Hebrews… nor do I think many Christians live by James or the Sermon on the Mount. They’re big into praying aloud in a group at my church, for example.

  7. Michael Middleton

    That’s my question. If the old Jewish scriptures are as the author of Hebrews reinterpreted them, what changes day-to-day? We don’t live in Christian communes or Jewish synagogues. Nero isn’t look for us to feed to lions. Jesus asking his followers “who do men say that I am” becomes authority only when the Church tells them the rules that they must follow if they say “Son of God” themselves.

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