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WHY DID JOHN DESCRIBE JESUS AS “THE LOGOS”?
A Bridge between Jew and Gentile
Victor M. Eskew
In thirty short years, the gospel of Christ had spread from the city of Jerusalem to the imperial city of Rome. The Gentile Christians outnumbered the Jewish Christian in the Empire. Many Jewish ideas were foreign to the Jewish mind. One of these concepts involved the Messiah. The Jews had always lived in anticipation of the Anointed One, the Christ. No so for the Greek. His laws and commandments did not refer to a coming Redeemer.
A connection was needed between Jewish thought and Greek ideology. The apostle John, who lived in the Greek city of Ephesus, found a way to bridge the gap. He did this by using the term “logos,” Word, to refer to the Christ. “Here was something which belonged to the heritage of both races and that both could understand” (The Gospel of John, Barclay, Vol. I, p. 27).
The Jews heard of “the word of God” on almost a daily basis, especially in the first century. The Hebrew Old Testament had been translated into the Aramaic language. The translations were called the Targums. The Targums contained the phrase, “the word of God,” often. “In the Jonathan Targum, the phrase the word of God occurs no few than about three hundred and twenty times” (Barclay, p. 30).
“The word of God” had rich meaning to the Jew. It was a powerful and active force. It had the power to create and to give life. “As Professor John Paterson has put it: ‘The spoken word to the Hebrew was fearfully alive…It was a unit of energy charged with power. It flies like a bullet to its billet’” (Barclay, p. 27). The term also contained the idea of reason to a Jewish mind. In fact, the word “wisdom” in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament is analogous to the term “word.” This connection can be seen often in the book of Proverbs (Prov. 3:13-26; 4:5-13; 8:1-9:2). Like “the Word,” wisdom is pre-existent, has the ability to create, and gives life. Most certainly, the Jews’ attention would be caught when he heard of “the Word.”
The Gentile mind was also interested in “the Word.” “In Greek thought the idea of the word began away back about 560 B.C., and, strangely enough, in Ephesus when the Fourth Gospel was written” (Barclay, p. 34). The word was used and developed by a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus. He saw that everything was constantly in a state of flux. Yet, the change did not result in complete chaos. It was controlled and ordered. “…that which controlled the patter was the Logos, the word, the reason of God. To Heraclitus, the Logos was the principle of order under which the universe continued to exist” (Barclay, p. 35). This concept fascinated the Greeks, especially the Stoics (See Acts 17:18). The Stoics believed: “’All things are controlled by the Logos of God. The Logos is the power which puts sense into the world, the power which makes the world an order instead of a chaos, the power which set the world going and keeps it going in its perfect order’” (Barclay, p. 35).
“Slowly the Jews and Greeks had thought their way to the concept of the Logos, the Mind of God which made the world and makes sense of it. So John went out to Jews and Gentiles to tell them that in Jesus Christ this creating, illuminating, controlling, sustaining mind of God had come to earth. He came to tell them that men need no longer guess and grope; all that they had to do was to look at Jesus and see the Mind of God” (Barclay, pp. 36-37).