Saturday, June 22, 2013

The ‘λόγος of God’: a Hebrew Concept Packed into a Greek Word

Image source: Accordance
There is still a good bit of activity over at Green Baggins on the thread “Conversions to Roman Catholicism”.

In a side discussion, on the topic of whether the New Testament writers were more influenced by Greek, Pagan, or Gnostic concepts, or whether they drew their sources from the Old Testament, I wrote this comment (#194):

CD-Host said #174 –

The word “logos” is in Greek without a corresponding Hebrew word. The fundamental problem of the logos, how an unchanging god can interact with a changing universe, that is act in time, doesn’t exist in Hebrew though. In Hebrew though God exists in time and experiences reality sequentially.

I’m not going to deny that there are concepts in the Hebrew literature that tie in. For example it is possible to make such a case like Yahweh being the material realization of El. But then you are have to have “Old Testament Judaism” as henotheistic not monotheistic and there you have the “son” being Yahweh not Jesus. The angelic “Son of God” / “Son of Man” concept which does have Aramaic ties and might go back to Hebrew could work.

I don’t see how you can argue that the Christian Logos, John’s Logos isn’t a variant of Hellenistism’s Logos. The Logos for Christians is an intermediary who interacts with matter on behalf of the supreme God.

I think Pagan Hellenism -> Hellenistic Judaism (Philo) -> Christianity (Gospel John) is such an obvious derivation. I’m not sure why you would want to bypass it.

We don’t have to relegate this to opinion. I’ve mentioned to you that T.F. Torrance found Philo in 1 Clement’s use of the concept of “grace”. But that same study of the Apostolic Fathers traced Paul’s usage and it had no discernable reliance on Philo, but rather it relied heavily on the OT concepts of hesed and related concepts of God’s lovingkindness.

Just as some background, (and in response to Bryan’s article “The Tradition and the Lexicon”), I cited G.K. Beale to the effect that:

By standards that Beale relates, there may be more than 4,000 “allusions” or “echoes” of the Old Testament found within the New. Given that there are 7956 verses in the New Testament, more than half the New Testament can be seen as bearing at least some form of “echo of” or “allusion to” some Old Testament concept or idea.

Thus, when a New Testament writer talks of “tradition” “handed down” (παρέδοσαν) to him by “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”, which in Luke 1:2 is a clear reference to the apostles, the “content” of that “tradition” was oozing with Old Testament words and concepts.

Beale traces three different types of phenomena: “direct references”, “probable allusions”, and “possible allusions”.

An “allusion” may simply be defined as a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage. In contrast to a quotation of the OT, which is a direct reference, allusions are indirect references (the OT wording is not reproduced directly as in a quotation).

This is an exercise in determining “where the language of the New Testament came from”. And it is no surprise that Christ’s Apostles were steeped in the culture of the Old Testament.

With that said, looking to John and λόγος, D.A. Carson, for example, in his analysis of John’s prologue (John 1:1-1:18) while allowing that the word exists in Greek culture (i.e. Plato and Philo), but he says (after a lengthy analysis) “there is little evidence for the existence of full-blown Gnosticism before John wrote his gospel”.

Of Philo and other Greek sources he says:

Still others think John has borrowed from Philo, a first-century Jew who was much influenced by Plato and his successors. Philo makes a distinction between the ideal world, which he calls ‘the logos of God’, and the real or phenomenal world wihich is but its copy. In particular, logos for Philo can refer to the ideal man, the primal man, from which all empirical human beings derive. But Philo’s logos has no distinct personality, and does not itself become incarnate. John’s logos doctrine, by contrast, is not tied to such dualism. More generally, logos can refer to inner thought, hence ‘reason’ even ‘science’. That is one reason why some have advocated ‘Reason’ as a translation of logos. Alternatively logos can refer to outward expression, hence ‘speech’ or ‘message’, which is why ‘Word’ is still thought by many to be the most appropriate term, provided it does not narrowly refer to a mere linguistic sign but is understood to mean something like ‘message’ (as in 1 Cor 1:18).

Kostenberger, too, in his commentary notes the various Greek concepts, and points out that “in Stoic thought, logos was Reason, the impersonal principle governing the universe … Yet while John may well have been aware of the Stoic concept of the logos, it is doubtful that it constituted his primary conceptual framework (and he cites an earlier work of his to that effect).

Neither Carson nor Kostenberger (nor Beale) is unaware of the DSS and other sources you cite. Nevertheless, Carson gives what I believe is a superb summary of the source for λόγος in John 1:

However the Greek term is understood, there is a more readily available background than that provided by Philo or the Greek philosophical schools. Considering how frequently John quotes or alludes to the Old Testament, that is the place to begin. (And the chapter on John in “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament” covers nearly 100 pages).

There, ‘the word’ (Hebrew: dabar) of God is connected with God’s powerful activity in creation (cf. Gen 1:3ff; Ps 33:6), revelation (Jer 1:4; Is 9:8; Ezk 33:7; Amos 3:1, 8) and deliverance (Ps 107:20; Is. 55:1). If the Lord (Yahweh) is said to speak to the prophet Isaiah (e.g. Is 7:3), elsewhere we read that ‘the word of the Lord came to Isaiah (Is 38:4; cf. Jer 1:4; Ezk 1:6). It was by ‘the word of the Lord’ that the heavens were made (Ps 33:6); in Gen 1:3, 6, 9, etc., God simply speaks and his powerful word creates. That same word effects deliverance and judgment (Is 55:11; cf Ps 29:3ff).

When some of his people faced illness that brought them to the brink of death God ‘sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave’ (Ps 107:20). This personification of the ‘word’ becomes even more colourful in Jewish writing composed after the Old Testament (e.g. Wisdom 18:14, 15). Whether this heritage was mediated to John by th Greek version of the Old Testament that many early Christians used, or even by an Aramaic paraphrase (called a ‘Targum’), the ultimate fountain for this choice of language cannot be in serious doubt.

Carson goes on to cite other post-OT writings, especially related to the concept of logos as wisdom and concludes, “However, the lack of Wisdom terminology in John’s Gospel suggests that the parallels between Wisdom and John’s Logos may stem less from direct dependence than from common dependence on Old Testament uses of ‘word’ and Torah, from which both have borrowed.”

Concluding with his discussion of Greek thought:

In short, God’s “Word” in the Old Testament is his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation, and the personification of that ‘Word’ makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to God’s ultimate self-disclosure, the person of his own Son. But if the expression would prove richest for Jewish readers, it would also resonate in the minds of some readers with entirely pagan backgrounds. In their case, however, they would soon discover that whatever they had understood the term to mean in the past, the author [the Apostle John] was forcing them into fresh thought (see on v. 14: there Carson discusses and unpacks this comment: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

It is interesting to note that Carson is finding the same phenomenon in John and “λόγος” that Torrance found regarding “grace” in Paul: the word, prevalent in Greek thought, has a totally new meaning [for pagans] that is filled with Old Testament concepts.

One could go into much greater detail with this. Brown and Cullmann both interact extensively with the literature you cite and both place the identity of the λόγος firmly in the Old Testament.

1 comment:

  1. I could be way off-base, but didn't Plato use ideos or some such word for "forms", not "logos"? Could it be that Philo wanted to adapt some Platonic ideas to Judaism, so he substituted logos for ideos because he wanted to bring in dabar? That is, did the Neo-Platonists get "logos" from the Jews? Of course, I'm wrong if Platonists before Philo were using logos that way.