“In the beginning was the Logos…”
Christianity is unique among the world’s great religions in that it is the only one with the revelation of God emptying himself of his divine prerogatives to incarnate as a person in order to save all humankind from a fallen imperfect state and lead them to ultimately attain to the likeness of God. The Logos Doctrine is essential to an understanding of that revelation.
Our discussion begins with the words of St. John in the prologue to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Logos (Word)…”.
The New Testament was originally composed in Greek. The Greek word which is translated “Word” in most English Bibles is “Logos”. Many English speaking Christians are aware of this fact, but very few are aware of the ancient Christian Logos Doctrine to which it refers. The Logos Doctrine is so foundational to Christian theology that Protestant theologian Paul Tillich stated emphatically that, “He who sacrifices the Logos principle sacrifices the idea of a living God, and he who rejects the application of this principle to Jesus as the Christ rejects his character as Christ.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, p. 288). With that crystal clear message from one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, let’s move on!
So, what is this Logos Doctrine?
Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus used the word Logos to describe what he envisioned as a universal force of reason which governed the universe. He felt that “all things happen according to this Logos”. Later, the philosophical school known as the Stoics expanded and popularized this idea in the ancient world.
Early Christians, including the Gospel writer John, adapted the Logos principle as a means to explain Jesus Christ in terms that the dominant Greco-Roman culture could understand and respect. In Greek Stoic philosophy, the concept of the Logos describes a universal principle. But, in the Christian context, in addition to that transcendent idea, the Logos also assumes a very personal character by being associated with the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. So, in the following discussion of the pre-incarnational Christian Logos Doctrine, every time we see “Logos” or Word, we need to mentally add to it the “Son”, the second Person of the Trinitarian Godhead.