The first known mention of the "logos" was by Greek philosopher Heraclitus who lived around 535 - 475 BC. The idea was subsequently developed further by other philosophers such as Aristotle.

The Author of John's Gospel picks up on this "logos" idea and claims that the logos "was in the beginning with God", that the logos "was God", and that the logos "became flesh and dwelt among us".

I've always suspected that a lot of information is lost when translating Johns Gospel to English where they translate "Logos" as "Word". "Word" is such a mundane word compared to "Logos" which is rich in meaning and comes loaded with 500 years of philosophical baggage.

This leads me to wonder, what is the relationship between the "logos" of Greek philosophy and the "logos" as used in Johns Gospel? Why did the author of Johns Gospel use that particular word? Was it their intention to import all of the Greek philosophical baggage that was associated with the term into Christianity? Or were they attempting to completely redefine the word?

Most (English speaking) Christians I've spoken to don't seem aware or concerned by the fact that this Greek word "logos" has much more significance than the English word "Word". Some Christians I've spoken to reckon that all that Greek philosophy is irrelevant and that we should only focus on the "Christian" meaning of the word, which is simply "Word", nothing more or less than that. Personally I dispute that this is the "Christian" meaning, and I reckon that there are a lot of deep connections to be had between Christianity and Greek Philosophy if we ponder "logos" within it's original cultural context and meaning.

Summary question: What is the connection between the "Logos" of Greek philosophy and the "Logos" of John's Gospel? Are they meant to be the same thing? Are they meant to be entirely different? Are they supposed to be similar but not identical?


This subject is addressed at length in the First Apology of Justin Martyr (100-165 AD). In Chapter V, for example, he writes:

For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself. And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ.


All the New Testament was written in Greek, but there seems to be no single word in Latin or English that compares with Logos. Jesus said He was the Truth and the Way and the Life (14:6). In John’s opening verse, He is the Logos, which was translated into the Latin Vulgate as Verbum, and then into English as Word. Translations lose content at each step. Some later commentators used the more dynamic living word. Two words can be better than one. What John’s Gospel says with the Greek Logos more closely resembles what Jesus said in Aramaic. Here’s why: word is defined as a small fragment of communication. E.g., in the sequence of communication fragments: 1) letter, 2) syllable, 3) word, 4) phrase, 5) sentence, 6) thought, 7) issue, 8) philosophy, word is toward the small end of things. But Logos is much more extensive; in Greek, it means all these things: word, speech, account, reason, discourse, ground, plea, opinion, expectation, principle of order and knowledge, and divine activating principle which pervades the universe. The seven words at the end are just part of the meaning of Logos. (BTW, if John had specifically meant word, he could have used lexis, which comes from the same root.) John was not the first to say “in the beginning”, nor the first to use Logos; but he did connect them in a unique way. In the Septuagint (Greek OT):“The Word (Logos) of Yahweh is right and true...by the Word (Logos) of Yahweh were the heavens made” (Ps 33:4,6). Even before John’s Gospel, Luke 1:2 suggested a connection between Logos and a beginning: “... just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word (Logos) have delivered them to us”. The Logos is in some sense distinguishable from God, for "the Logos was with God”. God and the Logos are not two beings, and yet not simply identical. This paradox is maintained in the body of John’s Gospel. That God as He acts does not "exhaust" God as He is, is reflected in sayings of Jesus: "The Father and I are one” and "the Father is greater than I." The Logos is God active in creation, revelation, and redemption. Jesus Christ not only is the Word ─ He gives God's Word to us.


By using the term "Logos" the author of John's Gospel clearly intends to explain the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of Greek philosophical ideas current at the time. To know the background to those ideas would likely add to our appreciation of John's Gospel.

This is a quote from a book by C.H. Dodd:-

Augustine, in a well-known passage of the Confessions (vii. 9), writes:

Thou didst procure for me through a certain person... some books of the Platonists translated from Greek into Latin.

There [i.e. in those Platonist books] I read - not in so many words, but in substance, supported by many arguments of various kinds — that

in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

By him were all things made, and without him was not anything made.

That which was made in him was life, and the life was the light of men.

And the light shines in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.

And that the soul of man, though it bear witness of the light, is not itself the light; but the Word of God, being God, is the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

And that he was in the world and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

But that he came unto his own and his own received him not, but as many as received him to them gave he power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, I did not read there.

Again I read there that God the Word was born not of the flesh nor of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God.

But that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us I did not read there.

Quoted from "The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel" by C.H. Dodd (page 10):- http://preteristarchive.com/Books/pdf/1953_dodd_interpretation-of-the-fourth-gospel.pdf

Reading on from that page 10 is a long section too long to give here.

Or you can look at Augustine's Confessions book 7 chapter 9, page 170, online here:- http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/SpiritualFormation/Texts/Augustine_Confessions.pdf

Augustine is at pains to show that, though the Greek philosophers speak of Logos and even of the Son of God they never speak of this Son becoming man and dying for sinners. That is unique to the Christian Gospel.

C.H. Dodd's work is referenced here:-


Philo of Alexandria (20 BC to 40 AD) was the (Jewish) philosopher who sought to construct philosophical bridges between Hellenistic philosophy and Jewish religious thought. In Chapter 11 (the Doctrine of the Logos in Philo's writings) we read:

The pivotal and most developed doctrine in Philo's writings on which hinges his entire philosophical system, is his doctrine of the Logos.

It does look very much as if the author of John's Gospel used Greek thought about the Logos to write his Gospel, and to appeal better to those with a Greek education and philosophical background; while simultaneously not undermining the ability of those without a Greek philosophical background to understand his message.

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