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 question does not follow the required format to be included in this forum: what does X denomination hold about Y text with regard to Z doctrine. Please edit the question to comply.
    – Seeker
    Nov 11, 2019 at 1:01
  • Logos philosophy can be found in Plato, Stoicism, and later, in Philo.
    – zippy2006
    May 7, 2021 at 4:53

5 Answers 5


By using the term "Logos" the author of John's Gospel intends to explain the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of Greek philosophical ideas current at the time.

He may have done this because, in the Greek culture for hundreds of years beforehand, introducing a new god was heresy, it was strictly frowned upon: In Athens for some time it was a capital offence. Thus, famously, Socrates in 399 BC was sentenced to death:

the accusers cited two impious acts by Socrates: "failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges" and "introducing new deities". (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_of_Socrates)

Whenever some new eastern religion came along the Athenians would see if the new god was actually one of their accepted gods but just with a different name: Such was OK. But to introduce an entirely new god was entirely unacceptable.

The Apostle Paul, in opening his message to the Athenians, on Mars Hill, masterfully got around this problem by saying he was just going to tell them how to better to worship one of their own gods... "the Unknown God" (Acts 17:23). John gets around it by saying Jesus Christ is their "Logos". If that is the reason, then it was another masterstroke to open the Greek-influenced mind to the reception of the Gospel: it would also explain why his gospel starts the way it does. "Be receptive to what I am about to tell you in the coming manuscript because I am not introducing any new god for I know that would be unacceptable.

Or he did this, not because Greek philosophy influenced his beliefs, but rather to make the Gospel easier to understand for those who knew the Greek philosophy; he used Greek philosophical teaching about the Logos to act as a bridge to faith in Christ as the Son of God for some of his readers.

To know the background to those ideas might 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 of book, which begins chapter 2 of Part I, "The Background"):- http://library.mibckerala.org/lms_frame/eBook/The%20Interpretation%20of%20the%20Fourth%20Gospel.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

[ For those who would like to read paragraphs 13 and 14, chapter 9, book 7, of Augustine's Confessions more exactly:-

"And Thou [Lord], willing first to show me how Thou resist the proud, but give grace unto the humble, and by how great an act of Thy mercy Thou had traced out to men the way of humility, in that Thy Word was made flesh, and dwelt among men:— Thou procured for me, by means of one puffed up with most unnatural pride, certain books of the Platonists, translated from Greek into Latin. And therein I read, not indeed in the very words, but to the very same purpose, enforced by many and divers reasons, 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: all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made: that which was made by Him is life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. And that the soul of man, though it bears witness to the light, yet itself is not that light; but the Word of God, being God, is that true light that lights 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 the sons of God, as many as believed in His name; this I read not there.

Again I read there, that God the Word was born not of 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 read not there.

For I traced in those books that it was many and divers ways said, that the Son was in the form of the Father, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, for that naturally He was the Same Substance. But that He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, and that the death of the cross: wherefore God exalted Him from the dead, and gave Him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should how, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father; those books have not.

For that before all times and above all times Thy Only-Begotten Son remains unchangeable, co-eternal with Thee, and that of His fulness souls receive, that they may be blessed; and that by participation of wisdom abiding in them, they are renewed, so as to be wise, is there. But that in due time He died for the ungodly; and that Thou spared not Thine Only Son, but delivered Him for us all, is not there.

For Thou have hidden these things from the wise, and revealed them to babes; that they that labour and are heavy laden might come unto Him, and He refresh them, because He is meek and lowly in heart; and the meek He directs in judgment, and the gentle He teaches His ways, beholding our lowliness and trouble, and forgiving all our sins. But such as are lifted up in the lofty walk of some would-be sublimer learning, hear not Him, saying, Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls. Although they knew God, yet they glorify Him not as God, nor are thankful, but wax vain in their thoughts; and their foolish heart is darkened; professing that they were wise, they became fools."

(https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3296/3296-h/3296-h.htm#link2H_4_0007) ]

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" by Professor C. H. Dodd) 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.

What advantage did John see in using the term Logos? If Augustine is right (see his quote relating to John 1:1 above) then by the time of the writing of John's Gospel a developing theme in one/some of the schools of Greek philosophy included a progress from a unitarian understanding of God to a Two-Persons-One-God, a "Bi-une", understanding. In this school of Greek philosophy the Logos is not just "God's word", but rather one of the Persons of the Godhead. So John used the term to help his readers who knew Greek philosophy: it is a much smaller step of the understanding to go from a Biune God to a Triune God than from a Unitarian God to a Triune God.

The OP writes:

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.

Whatever the reason(s) John started his gospel with fourteen verses associating our Lord Jesus with the Logos of Greek philosophy, it does not undermine the ability of those without a Greek philosophical background to understand his message. And so, those Christians are more right than wrong: what matters is that unlike the Greek "Logos", the Word of God became flesh, died for our sins, and rose again the third day. And it is those differences between our glorious Word of God, the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners, and the Greek Logos which really matter.

We don't need to delve overmuch into why "Logos" was used by digging down and down into Greek philosophy. Its only the Bible that really matters.

  • This is a great answer except for your last paragraph. For the Greeks and the Jews the logos was not hypostasized divinity, although it was related to God in various ways. John is referencing Greek philosophy and cosmology, but that Greek thought doesn't posit a Biune God. Of course neither is it true that for John "the Logos is just 'God's word'." The Biune God makes its first appearance in John's gospel. The Holy Spirit as a divine hypostasis would not occur until the fourth century.
    – zippy2006
    May 7, 2021 at 4:48
  • What about this possibility: By inspiring their philosophers, God prepared the Greek-speaking world to receive the 'kingdom of God' from the Jews. Therefore the Greek philosophy had this logos, emanated from the High God, through whom God created and mainains all things. Philo could see the correlation with the OT and work hard to reconcile the two systems. Helenized Greek philosophy (Philo) was the Jewish culture. The Holy Spirit inspired John and Paul and other writers to see the correlation of who they believed the Son is and the logos of Greek philosophy, received via Philo.
    – Andries
    Feb 24, 2022 at 10:03
  • That link to preteristarchive.com does not seem to work.
    – Andries
    Feb 24, 2022 at 15:54
  • @Andies - Thanks. I have changed link to library.mibckerala. Feb 26, 2022 at 20:14

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.


I mostly agree with the answer given by @AndrewShanks, summed up in his first paragraph. On the other hand, his answer does not confront the Scriptural foundation of John's logos.

The logos is, essentially, God Himself, it is the Greek rendering of the equivalent Hebrew word dabar, and, even more probably, of the Aramaic memra, a term used especially in the Targums (Aramaic translations-commentaries of the Torah) as a substitute for "the Lord", out of respect. There are good reasons to think that the Gospel of John, and in particular the Prologue, owes to an Aramaic text.

If we want to introduce a distinct referent (not person) for the logos, it is appropriate to say that it is an essential attribute of God, just like His Spirit (Greek, pneuma; Heb ruach).


Mostly a translation issue. St. Jerome translated Logos to Verbum in the Vulgate, narrowing the Vulgate definition to Word, where Logos has many other meanings. The original Gospel of John uses Logos.

  • 1
    This answer is headed in the right direction, but it is incomplete. For example, addressing the fact that some of the Christian Churches continue to use Greek and do not use Latin, would seem to be required based on the question. Welcome Sean. The tour provides a good introduction to the site, while How to Ask and [anser] provide more guidance on how to offer up questions and answers that meet site requirements. This isn't a forum. May 11, 2020 at 15:31

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.

  • It would assist your readership if you made paragraphs relating to the progressive points in your argument. To present the dreaded 'wall of text' on the screen does not assist clear thinking.
    – Nigel J
    May 5, 2021 at 15:03
  • @JimGaidis I mostly agree with your Answer, in particular Aramaic being the language spoken by Jesus and (most likely), the Aramaic background of John's Gospel. This being premised, would you agree that, whereas logos sarx egeneto is (obvioulsy) right, this, theos sarx egeneto is simply wrong? May 5, 2021 at 15:42
  • 1
    @Nigel J: Thanks. I did so and am impressed!
    – Jim Gaidis
    May 5, 2021 at 17:49
  • @Miguel de Servet: "Word" conveys some meaning. I think "Logos" conveys more meaning. I am not an experienced Bible scholar and don't want to suggest "wrong" when that is a step on a ladder that you or I are climbing up. If you knocked out all the "wrong" steps, you would have no ladder, and would have to make a mighty leap to get to the top. And might get discouraged and quit, as I think so many do because they have no one to explain little by little. But it is fun and worthwhile to make better and better ladders.
    – Jim Gaidis
    May 5, 2021 at 18:01
  • @JimGaidis I am always wary of analogies/metaphors/images. Could you please help me understand what, in this case, do the "ladder" and its "steps" allude to? I would rather hear it from you, that do the guesswork myself :) May 5, 2021 at 19:09

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