August 6, 2011

λόγος V:A Muddled Cultural Melting Pot

I imagine many things played into John’s usage of the term λογος and the decision to create relational likeness between “the Word” and Jesus. I will list a few of them as I found them in my sources. In Palestinian Judaism rabbis often used the Aramaic word “memra” that meant “word” as a periphrasis which was a roundabout way to express God’s name. At every turn Jews avoided anthropomorphizing God by abstaining from writing or pronouncing God’s name in any form, including the form of the Word. They considered God’s name too sacred to utter or write. To avoid mistakenly doing either they would exclude His name completely or substitute it. The usage of memra occurred frequently in the Jewish Targums (Elwell 645). This would’ve been ubiquitous in the Jewish subculture leading up to the time of John’s writing therefore heavily influencing their thought processes. What would’ve also been common in the Jewish religious culture would be the Greek Septuagint’s LXX usage of λογος translated from the Hebrew word dabar. As mentioned before in the Hellenized philosophy the λογος was considered reason and of a divine source. In Greek or Hellenized thought the λογος is described as a divine attribute and other times it is described as the go between for man and the divine or it. To the Greek mind the λογος was essentially the mind of God that was at work in the world and in man. Those that practiced stoicism (a form of school of Hellenistic philosophy) actually said that the λογος pervade all things. This sounds strangely akin to Pantheism and could be construed as such (Barrett 127). The bottom line is that the Greeks were also aware of the λογος and viewed as the active and administrative power of God in the world. The Jewish and Greek philosophes were not the far apart.

The melding of these two produced what amounted to an indistinct philosophy of Hellenistic Judaism which believed in a hybrid of the two. The 1st Century philosopher Philo used this idea profusely as it shows up 1300 times in his writing. Unfortunately, he never uses it in an unambiguous fashion so it is hard to tell exactly what Philo meant with his usage. This nebulous viewpoint permeated Hellenized Judaism. On the other hand, John’s usage of λογος was not reason but rather word/Word and his usage was clear - in the speculative Greek or Hellenized philosophy of Philo, λογος was an “it”, John’s λογος was a “He”. If the λογος is a “He” it had to be more than just reason since it had been identified with a person/personality (McDonald 1186). John is clearly making a disambiguation here so that readers could easily identify “the Word” as Jesus. Instead of Philo’s allegorical abstractions we see John’s concrete God man. These philosophies couldn’t be farther apart. John not only clearly states that the Word is a real-life extant being in Jesus…what we see unfolded in the Gospel of John is that the Word is also a creative force not just of the past but also an active creative force in the present being used by God. Christ is God’s active Word. Christ is God’s active self-revelation (Elwell 646).

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