Review: An Introduction to the Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge

Dirk Jongkind’s Introduction to the Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge is a short, simple, and excellent introduction to New Testament textual criticism. It has such a long title because it also tells a bit of the story behind the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT), the goal of which is “to give the text of the original Greek as accurately as possible.” (Anyone interested in textual criticism or involved in academic biblical studies should have the new THGNT—and it happens to be on Pre-Pub in Logos right now.)
[Read more…]

Bible Interpretation: Let the Bible Be What It Is

As a biblical scholar, I’m often asked for advice on how to interpret the Bible. I could refer people to tools (like Logos Bible Software) and techniques for analyzing the original languages, even for people dependent on English. But neither of those are my go-to answer. My own journey has convinced me there’s one fundamental insight that, if faithfully observed, will help more than anything. It’s the best piece of advice I can give you:
Let the Bible be what it is. [Read more…]

What Is Logos in the Bible? A Short and Extended Answer

More than the name of this blog and our Bible study software, logos (which we pronounce LOW-goess . . .  and LAH-gahss) is an important Greek word in biblical and theological studies.

Logos is arguably the most debated and most discussed word in the Greek New Testament,” writes Douglas Estes in his entry on this word in the Lexham Bible Dictionary (a free resource from Lexham Press).

What does logos mean, and why is it significant for Christian theology and biblical studies? This post, adapted from Estes’ explanation, offers a thorough explanation of the word.

Short answer

Logos (λόγος, logos) is a concept-word in the Bible symbolic of the nature and function of Jesus Christ. It is also used to refer to the revelation of God in the world.

Introduction to Logos

The Greek word logos simply means “word.” However, along with this most basic definition comes a host of quasi-technical and technical uses of the word logos in the Bible as well as ancient Greek literature. Its most famous usage is John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Meaning of Logos in the Bible

The standard rendering of logos in English is “word.” This holds true in English regardless of whether logos is used in a mundane or technical sense. Over the centuries, and in a variety of languages, other suggestions have been made—such as the recent idea of rendering logos as “message” in English—but none have stuck with any permanency.

There are three primary uses for the word logos in the New Testament:

  1. Logos in its standard meaning designates a word, speech, or the act of speaking (Acts 7:22).
  2. Logos in its special meaning refers to the special revelation of God to people (Mark 7:13).
  3. Logos in its unique meaning personifies the revelation of God as Jesus the Messiah (John 1:14).

Since the writers of the New Testament used logos more than 300 times, mostly with the standard meaning, even this range of meaning is quite large. For example, its standard usage can mean:

  • An accounting (Matthew 12:36)
  • A reason (Acts 10:29)
  • An appearance or aural display (Colossians 2:23)
  • A preaching (1 Timothy 5:17)
  • A word (1 Corinthians 1:5)

The wide semantic range of logos lends itself well to theological and philosophical discourse (Phillips, Prologue, 106).

The Meaning of Logos in the Gospel of John

The leading use of logos in its unique sense occurs in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. This chapter introduces the idea that Jesus is the Word: the Word that existed prior to creation, the Word that exists in connection to God, the Word that is God, and the Word that became human, cohabited with people, and possessed a glory that can only be described as the glory of God (John 1:1, 14). As the Gospel of John never uses logos in this unique, technical manner again after the first chapter, and never explicitly says that the logos is Jesus, many have speculated that the Word-prologue predates the Gospel in the form of an earlier hymn or liturgy (Schnackenburg, Gospel, 1.224–32; Jeremias, Jesus, 100); however, there is little evidence for this, and attempts to recreate the hymn are highly speculative (Keener, Gospel, 333–37). While there are a multitude of theories for why the Gospel writer selected the logos concept-word, the clear emphasis of the opening of the Gospel and entrance of the Word into the world is cosmological, reflecting the opening of Genesis 1 (Estes, Temporal Mechanics, 107–13).

The Meaning of Logos in the Remainder of the New Testament

There are two other unique, personified uses of logos in the New Testament, both of which are found in the Johannine literature.

  1. In 1 John 1:1, Jesus is referred to as the “Word of life”; both “word” and “life” are significant to John, as this opening to the first letter is related in some way to the opening of the Gospel.
  2. In Revelation 19:13, the returning Messiah is called the “Word of God,” as a reference to His person and work as both the revealed and the revealer.

All of the remaining uses of logos in the New Testament are mostly standard uses, with a small number of special uses mixed in (e.g., Acts 4:31, where logos refers to the gospel message).

The Meaning of Logos in the Old Testament (LXX)

The Old Testament (LXX, or Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek) use of logos closely matches both standard and special New Testament uses. As with the New Testament, most uses of logos in the Old Testament fit within the standard semantic range of “word” as speech, utterance, or word. The LXX does make regular use of logos to specify the “word of the Lord” (e.g., Isaiah 1:10, where the LXX translates יהוה־דָּבָר, yhwhdavar), relating to the special proclamation of God in the world. When used this way, logos does not mean the literal words or speech or message of God; instead, it refers to the “dynamic, active communication” of God’s purpose and plan to His people in light of His creative activity (Need, “Re-Reading,” 399). The key difference between the Testaments is that there is no personification of logos in the Old Testament indicative of the Messiah. In Proverbs 8, the Old Testament personifies Wisdom, leading some to believe this is a precursor to the unique, technical use of logos occurring in the Johannine sections of the New Testament.

 

The Historical Background of the Logos Concept

Many theories have been proposed attempting to explain why the Gospel of John introduces Jesus as the Word.

Old Testament Word

This theory proposes that the logos in John simply referred to the Old Testament word for word (דָּבָר, davar) as it related to the revelatory activity of God (the “word of the Lord,” 2 Sam 7:4), and then personified over time from the “word of God” (revelation) to the “Word of God” (Messiah revealed; Carson, Gospel). This theory is the closest literary parallel and thought-milieu to the New Testament. As a result, it has gained a wide range of general acceptance. The lack of evidence showing such a substantial shift in meaning is this theory’s major weakness.

Old Testament Wisdom

In the centuries before the writing of the New Testament, the Jewish concept of Wisdom, or Sophia (σοφία, sophia), was personified as a literary motif in several texts (Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch), prompting arguments that “Sophia” is the root idea for Logos (Scott, Sophia). Paul appears to make a weak allusion to these two ideas also (1 Cor 1:24). This theory may be supported by the presence of a divine, personified hypostasis for God in Jewish contexts. The concept of Sophia shares some similarities with “Word.” However, Sophia may simply be a literary motif. Furthermore, it is unclear why the writer of the Gospel of John wouldn’t have simply used sophia instead of logos.

Jewish-Hellenistic Popular Philosophy

Philo (20 BC–AD 50), a Hellenistic Jew from Alexandria, wrote many books combining Hebrew and Greek theology and philosophy; he used logos in many different ways to refer to diverse aspects of God and his activity in the world (Tobin, “Prologue”). This theory is supported by the fact that Philo is a near-contemporary of John. Furthermore, the use of the language has several striking similarities. However, this theory has three major weaknesses:

  1. Philo never appears to personify logos in the same way John does (perhaps due to his strict monotheism).
  2. Philo’s philosophical system is complex and frequently at odds with the Bible’s worldview.
  3. Philo was not influential in his lifetime.

John’s Theology

One theory for the origin of the logos concept in the Gospel of John comes through the evolution of christological thought apparent in Johannine context: after working through the creation of the letters and the text of the Fourth Gospel, wherein the focus is repeatedly on the Christ as the revelation of God, the fourth evangelist may have written the prologue as the fruition and capstone of all of his thoughts on the person and work of Jesus (Miller, “Johannine”). As this theory takes the thought-process of the evangelist seriously, it is elegant and plausible. However, it does not actually answer the question regarding the origin of the concept, as the evangelist must have had some original semantic range for logos.

Greek Philosophy

For Heraclitus and later Stoic philosophers, logos was a symbol of divine reason; it is possible that John borrowed this concept from the Hellenistic milieu in which he wrote (Hook, “Spirit,” 227). While few individuals support this theory today, early church fathers such as Irenaeus and Augustine indirectly favored it. This theory may be plausible, as Greek philosophy did have a pervasive influence, and was accepted by many in the early church. However, there is no direct evidence that the writer of the Fourth Gospel knew or cared about Greek philosophy.

The Torah

In order to place the Gospel of John squarely in Jewish context, this theory proposes that logos is best understood as the incarnated Torah (Reed, Semitic). The theory is based on some parallels between “word” and “law” (νόμος, nomos) in the LXX (Psa 119:15); thus, one could translate John 1:1 as Jacobus Schoneveld did: “In the beginning was the Torah, and the Torah was toward God, and Godlike was the Torah.” This theory’s major strength is that it encourages a Jewish context for reading John. Furthermore, some parallels between “word” and “law” are possible. However, as there is very limited evidence for such a personified reading, this theory has received only limited acceptance.

[…]

No accepted consensus regarding the origin of the logos concept-word exists. This much appears probable: the writer of the Gospel of John knew Greek, and thus must have encountered, to some degree, at least a rudimentary Hellenistic philosophical understanding of the use of logos; however, being first a Jew not a Greek, the author was more concerned about Old Testament thought patterns and contemporary Jewish language customs. Thus, it seems likely that, in the proclamation of the Gospel over time, these strains bore christological fruit for the evangelist, culminating in the unique “Word” concept presented in John 1.

The Reception of the Logos Concept in Early Church History

The logos concept was a foundational idea for theological development from the start of the early church. Perhaps the earliest Christian document after the New Testament is 1 Clement (ca. AD 95–97), in which the author inserts logos in its special usage of God’s revelation (1 Clement 13.3). First Clement may also contain the first existing unique, technical usage of logos as Jesus outside of the New Testament (if 1 Clement 27.4 is read as an allusion to Colossians 1:16; if not, it is still a very close parallel to John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1). A similar allusion to the logos as God’s revelation/Bible (New Testament) occurs in the Letter of Barnabas 6:17 (ca. AD 100) and Polycarp 7.2 (ca. AD 120).

The first and clearest reference to logos as Christ comes in the letters of Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch, who was martyred ca. AD 110 (To the Magnesians 8.2). By the middle of the second century, the logos concept began to appear in conventional (Letter to Diognetus 12.9), apologetic (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus) and theological (Irenaeus) uses. At the start of the third century, Origen’s focus on the logos as to the nature of Christ signaled the intense interest that Christian theology would put on the word into the future.

Logos in Culture

The logos concept continues to influence Western culture; it is foundational to Christian belief. The Greek idea of logos (with variant connotations) was also a major influence in Heraclitus (ca. 540–480 BC), Isocrates (436–338 BC), Aristotle (384–322 BC), and the Stoics, even becoming part of ancient popular culture (Philo). The concept has continued to influence Western culture since that time, partly due to the philosophical tradition of the logos that resumed post-Fourth Gospel with Neo-Platonism and with various strains of Gnosticism. Propelled through the centuries in its comparison/contrast to Christian theology, the logos continued into modern philosophical discussion with diverse thinkers including Hegel (1770–1831), Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), Carl Jung (1875–1961), and Jacques Derrida (1930–2004).

Without the theology of the Gospel of John, it seems unlikely that logos would have remained popular into late medieval or modern thought. Logos is one of the very few Greek words of the New Testament to be transliterated into English and put into everyday Christian usage.

This post is adapted from Douglas Estes’ “Logos” entry in the Lexham Bible Dictionary. Read the full version and bibliography in the Logos desktop app.

Douglas Estes is associate professor of New Testament and practical theology at South University-Columbia. He’s the author or editor of eight books, and is the editor of Didaktikos. He contributes to publications such as Christianity Today and Bible Study Magazine. Douglas is a fellow in the Center for Pastor Theologians.

 

Listening for God’s Voice with the Intent to Obey

Photo by Ilya Ilford on Unsplash

By Kevin Vanhoozer

This excerpt from Kevin Vanhoozer highlights the importance of not just hearing God’s voice but truly listening with the intent to obey what he says.

In perhaps the most famous Arabian Nights story, Aladdin discovers a magic lamp that, when rubbed, produces a genie who invariably responds, “Your wish is my command.” It is the classic response of a servant to his master: “To hear is to obey.”

But in real life, there is often a gap, sometimes a yawning chasm, between hearing and obeying. Not everyone is as fortunate as Aladdin: sometimes servants hear, and do half-heartedly; at other times, they hear and do not do at all. Jesus told his own equally compelling stories that illustrate the all-important difference between hearing and doing.

Unusual teaching

The Gospel of Mark introduces Jesus as a teacher who astonished his hearers, “for he taught them as one who had authority” (Mark 1:22). He taught in the synagogue and, later, offered free seaside lectures (Mark 2:13; 4:1). The form of Jesus’ teaching is significant: “And he was teaching them many things in parables” (Mark 4:2).

A parable is an extended metaphor (“the kingdom of God is like …”), a metaphorical narrative—a story in which something extraordinary happens that subverts the ordinary way people think about things.

The first such story Mark recounts is the parable of the sower, which is about different kinds of hearers, represented by the different kinds of soil on which the seed of God’s word falls. Even the disciples did not understand it at first, and this despite Jesus’ obvious hint at the end: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). The parable they are to hear is itself about hearing God’s word. In particular, the parable explains the kind of hearing Jesus is after: a hearing in which God’s word takes root in a singular and wonderful way. Indeed, this is the extraordinary element in the parable: that a word-seed can multiply its growth a hundredfold.

To hear rightly is to correctly grasp the content of Jesus’ teaching, namely, the strange new world of the kingdom of God.

— Kevin Vanhoozer

This is also a parable of the kingdom of God. Jesus subverts his hearers’ conventional picture of a kingdom as something that can be established by swords and soldiers. Jesus instead proclaims a kingdom established by the right reception of the gospel—the right kind of hearing—rather than military conquest.

Jesus’ parables of the kingdom challenge the prevailing social imaginaries of power, be it ancient Roman imperialism or present-day geopolitics. Jesus taught with authority precisely by announcing a new picture to live by. To hear rightly is to correctly grasp the content of Jesus’ teaching, namely, the strange new world of the kingdom of God.

Hearing God’s voice and obeying

One qualification for being a disciple of Jesus is to be able to follow Jesus’ stories. Yet hearing, even with understanding and apparent agreement, is not enough. Toward the end of his longest lesson, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes an explicit contrast between hearing and doing: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. … And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matt 7:24, 26).

True disciples must be hearers and doers of Jesus’ words. The Greek term for the rock on which one builds—bedrock—shows up again later in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says he will build his church “on this bedrock.” In other words, he who would build Jesus’ church on a rock rather than sand must build it on the bedrock of Jesus’ words. This is confirmed in Luke’s Gospel where, just after the parable of the sower, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

As rabbi or Master, Jesus did not want his followers simply to listen to his lessons and then continue living as before. To hear and not do is both to flout the authority of Jesus’ words and to flaunt oneself as lord. Moreover, to hear and not do is the opposite not only of obedience but also of learning. No one learns to swim or ride a bike simply by reading an instruction manual. Jesus desires followers who both listen and learn.

This post is adapted from chapter 3 of Hearers and Doers by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Lexham Press, 2019).


New Series from Lexham Press: the Best of Christianity Today

Since 1956, Christianity Today has been the leading voice for evangelicalism in America—a bellwether of theology, politics, and culture for evangelicals. Some of the most influential and respected modern evangelical leaders have written for the magazine, including John Stott, Carl F.H. Henry, F.F. Bruce, Cornelius Van Til, J.I. Packer, and others.  

Now, the best of Christianity Today is being collected into books, and the first three are available for pre-order today.

These books mark the beginning of a three-year project between CT and Lexham Press, the publishing imprint of Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software.

Here’s a bit about each book.

The best of Carl F.H. Henry

Architect of Evangelicalism

No one is better equipped to provide a clear understanding of evangelicalism than the late Carl F.H. Henry, the founding editor of Christianity Today and an extremely influential theologian of American evangelicalism in the twentieth century. Architect of Evangelicalism helps us gain a better sense of the roots of American evangelicalism by giving us the best of Carl F.H. Henry’s Christianity Today essays.

 

 

 

Leading scholars on essential doctrines

Basics of the Faith

This work is an overview of essential Christian doctrines from some of the best minds of mid-twentieth-century evangelicalism around the globe. Originally appearing in the pages of Christianity Today in 1961–1962, this collection includes essays from influential theologians and biblical scholars. Basics of the Faith includes an introduction by Kevin J. Vanhoozer that lays out their original context and evaluates their ongoing significance.

 

 

 

John Stott on Jesus’ lordship

Christ the Cornerstone

The late Anglican pastor John R.W. Stott was committed to the notion that Jesus’ lordship has ramifications for all of life. Out of this conviction grew his contention that the whole mission of God includes both evangelism and social action. Christ the Cornerstone recovers several decades of his writings on this topic from the pages of Christianity Today, including the regular “Cornerstone” column he wrote from 1977–1981.

 

 

Learn more at LexhamPress.com/Christianity-Today.

Are We Sincere about Biblical Authority?

In my previous post, I noted that the right context for interpreting the Bible accurately isn’t the history of Christianity in any of its creedal distillations or denominational forms. But I went even further—I said that the biblical context isn’t any modern world context, period. The right context for understanding the Bible is the context that produced the Bible. That seems simple, but experience has taught me that commitment to this patently obvious truth isn’t easy. [Read more…]

Pastor as Spiritual Fitness Trainer—Preparing People for Daily Discernment

By Kevin Vanhoozer

The church is the body of Christ, and its core—the community of disciples, the faith corps—enables its characteristic bodily movements: witnessing to the gospel, worshiping the God of the gospel, maintaining the health of the body, performing works of love.

To perform these movements, and to have the strength to work and keep on moving, the church needs to attend to its core. In a word, the church needs theological exercises: training in godliness.

Spiritual fitness training

I describe the pastor-theologian in various ways, but here the metaphor I want to develop is that of a spiritual fitness trainer. To make disciples is to train men and women to perform the characteristic bodily movements that enable the local church to perform its roles as an embassy of the kingdom of God, a Christ corps.

To make or train disciples fit for purpose involves certain kinds of exercise. I have in mind not simply bodily exertions for the sake of physical fitness, but all sorts of actions intended to improve a specific skill, like finger exercises for the piano, a military exercise, and exercises at the end of every textbook chapter. [One essential skill] is reading Scripture theologically in order to take every thought, and imagination, captive to Christ in order to walk the Way of Christ and become more Christlike.

Spiritual exercises

Seeing the Christian life as a series of exercises is, of course, nothing new. The most famous example is the sixteenth-century classic Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius of Loyola, a collection of prayers and meditations on what it means to live in relationship to God as a follower of Jesus.

The exercises are not bodily but interior: they are designed to strengthen not muscle but the heart, what the apostle Paul calls our “inner being” (Rom 7:22; Eph 3:16). They are recommendations for maintaining and improving the health of one’s soul: “We call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and . . . of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life.”1 The ultimate aim: to orient the heart to God, and to find God in all things.

Reality—the world we live in, the only world there is, the world created by God—always and everywhere presents everyone with a choice, an unavoidable “either-or”: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15)

Discernment and decision

An important part of the exercises is learning to discern one’s own “spirit,” that is, the inner motivation for our actions. Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Roman Catholic theologian, believes that this emphasis on choice lies at the center of the Ignatian exercises: they’re all about helping persons to discern the heart of God, and the orientation of their own hearts, so that they choose God’s choice for them in joyful obedience.2

C.S. Lewis, though no Ignatian, had a similar concern for the centrality of “the choice” in the life of the disciple, as Joe Rigney explains: “Every moment of every day, you are confronted with a choice—either place God at the center of your life, or place something else there.”3

Reality—the world we live in, the only world there is, the world created by God—always and everywhere presents everyone with a choice, an unavoidable “either-or”: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15), either the one true God (the Father of Jesus Christ) or some false god, be it money, sex, fame, power, or something else—their name is Legion.

Discipleship involves waking up to the realization that there is a choice, and we must stay awake to the lordship of Jesus Christ long enough to make the right one: to obey, and thereby to exercise, like Jesus, genuine freedom.4

***

Kevin J. Vanhoozer (PhD, Cambridge University) is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of several books, including Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine and Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity, both Christianity Today Theology Books of the Year (2015, 2017). He is married and has two daughters.

This post is excerpted from Dr. Vanhoozer’s new book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, now available from Lexham Press. See the table of contents and preview pages. This post’s title and headings are the addition of an editor.

 

Do Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 Contradict? On the Contrary . . . 

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
     lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
     lest he be wise in his own eyes. [Read more…]

What Is the Proper Context for Interpreting the Bible?

The Four Evangelists, Jacob Jordaens, 1626–1630, commons.wikimedia.org

Anyone interested in Bible study, from the new believer to the biblical scholar, has heard (and maybe even said) that if you want to correctly interpret the Bible, you have to interpret it in context. I’m certainly not going to disagree. But I have a question: What does that mean? Put another way, just what context are we talking about? [Read more…]

Bonhoeffer and a Prison Reflection

Today marks the beginning of the Days of Remembrance, the United States’ annual commemoration of the Holocaust.

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime systematically persecuted and murdered an estimated six million Jews, as well as millions of others it deemed “politically, racially, or socially unfit.”1 Though well documented, the horrors of the Holocaust remain unfathomable. [Read more…]