Word of God

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Depending on who you are and what you believe in, the Word of God could mean Jesus, the Bible, the Qur'an, the kama sutra, Dianetics, anything the pope says ex cathedra, the Book of Mormon, the Tanakh and Talmud, the lyrics of Kanye West, the teachings of David Koresh, the commands of the Pharaohs, the commands of the Sapa Inca, the sayings of the Dalai Lama, the Avesta, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, anything on the internetWikipedia's W.svg and Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to mention just a few. This page is primarily going to focus on the Judaeo-Christian Word of God.

Lexicology of “The Word”[edit]

The word Christianity translates into “The Word” in the bible is the Greek word logos (λόγος). This can be seen in bible passages such as John 1:1

En archē ēn ho Lógos, kaì ho Lógos ēn pròs tòn Theón, kaì Theòs ēn ho Lógos.
—John 1:1 in its original Greek.[1]
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
—John 1:1 translated into English

It should be noted that a better translation for logos would be “The Reason” or “The Account” as the Greek word logos doesn’t usually translate into the English word “Word.” Rather the Greek word lexis is what translates to word. Lexis is used as a root in words like lexicon which is all the words that make up an area of knowledge, or dyslexia which is a learning disorder that involves difficulty in learning to read or interpret words. It is also the root for lexicology which is the study of words. Incidentally, LexicologyWikipedia's W.svg was what was just done. Logos, on the other hand, is the root for the English word logic.

Logos is g3056 in Strong's Concordance.[2]

Pre-Christian origins of logos (λόγος)[edit]

The philosophical importance of LogosWikipedia's W.svg can be traced to the pre-Socratic philosopher HeraclitusWikipedia's W.svg While none of his original writings have survived in their entirety, we do have fragments of his philosophy and some of these fragments describe his belief in logos. One such fragment is DKB2 where Heraclitus says Though the logos is common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.[3] This reference makes clear that Heraclitus believes in an independent existence of a universal logos. Another fragment from him reiterates this belief. It is wise, listening not to me but to the logos, to agree that all things are one.[4]

Stoic philosophers would use Heraclitus's idea of a universal logos in their model of the universe. EusebiusWikipedia's W.svg describes the stoic conception of the universe in the following passage:

They (the stoics) say, like Heraclitus, that the element of the existing world is fire… moreover, they say that at certain predestined and definite times the whole world is consumed by fire, and afterwards reorganized again. The primordial fire, however, is as it were just a seed, containing the reasons and causes of all things past, present, and future: and that the combination and sequence of these constitute fate, and knowledge, and truth, and the law of all being, from which there is no escape or avoidance.
Praeparatio Evangilica Book 15 Chapter 14.[5]

The primordial fire Eusebius referred to is a stoic concept called logos spermatikos (λόγος σπερματικός). According to the Stoics, logos spermatikos was the generative principle of the universe which created and took back all things. The word logos by itself was the ordering principle in the cosmos.[6]

Diogenes LaërtiusWikipedia's W.svg would describe logos spermatikos in the following passage:

God is one and the same with Reason, Fate, and Zeus… God, who is the seminal reason (logos spermatikos) [note 1] of the universe, remains behind in the moisture as such an agent, adapting matter to himself with a view to the next stage of creation.
Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers Book 7 135-136[7]

The stoic conception of the universe and logos would continue well into the Roman era. For example,Seneca the YoungerWikipedia's W.svg, a Roman stoic who lived from around 4 BC to AD 65, described God as creative reason (logos).

Now, however, I am searching for the first, the general cause; this must be simple, inasmuch as matter, too, is simple. Do we ask what cause is? It is surely Creative Reason – in other words, God.
Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium LXV 12[8]

Pre-Christian origins of dabar (וַיֹּ֥אמֶר)[edit]

The Jews had a different concept of the ‘word’ called dabar (h1697). Dabar is used in passages such as Joshua 1:18 to describe Yahweh's words. Dabar is also used to describe the words exchanged between two individuals such as in Genesis 27:34.[9] Dabar was not used to describe Yahweh’s use of speech to create things such as in Genesis 1:3 where “God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” For that the word amar (h559) was used.[10] When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek to create the Septuagint, the Hebrew words dabar and amar were translated into the Greek word logos. While the words are similar in terms of their literal meaning, philosophically the words are quite different. Greek logos is best descried as a metaphysical concept of a transcendent god whereas dabar and amar are better characterized as the divine utterances or actions of an anthropomorphic god.[11]

The Greek philosophical concepts of logos and pneuma and their Hebrew equivalents were identified with God by the author(s) of psalms.

By the word (dabar) of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (ruach) of his mouth.
Psalm 33:6

Hellenistic Judaism and logos[edit]

After Alexander the Great created his empire, the Greek culture was heavily influential throughout the region controlled by the Greeks. This influence is referred to as 'Hellenism' and the Hellenistic influence was particularly strong among Jews living in the city of Alexandria. This was the city where the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek to create the SeptuagintWikipedia's W.svg[note 2] It was also the city where Jewish philosophers combined traditional Jewish belief with Greek philosophy. One of the first people to do this was Aristobulus of AlexandriaWikipedia's W.svg and one of the ideas he promoted was the belief that Plato and Pythagoras drew upon Mosaic Law before the Septuagint was created.

It is evident that Plato closely followed our (Mosaic) legislation… for others before Demetrius of Phalerus (350 -280 BC), and prior to the supremacy of Alexander and the Persians, have translated the exodus… and the exposition of the whole law… also Pythagoras transferred many of our precepts and inserted them in his own system of doctrines.
Praeparatio Evangelica xiii. 12.[5]

There are no known Greek versions of Mosaic law before Cyrus and Alexander the Great conquered the places Jews lived[12] or any evidence that Pythagoras and Plato were aware of Jewish thought. Nonetheless, that was what Aristobulus believed and he was influential among the Hellenistic Jews. Aristobulus also appears to have made an attempt to incorporate logos into Judaism when he argued that God’s words denoted His activates.[13]

For we must understand the voice of God not as words spoken, but as construction of works, just as Moses in the Law has spoken of the whole creation of the world as words of God. For he constantly says of each work, “And God said, and it was so.”
Praeparatio Evangelica xiii. 12.[5]

The next major Hellenistic philosopher to incorporate the concept of logos into Judaism was Philo of AlexandriaWikipedia's W.svg (c. 20 BCE – c. 50 CE). One of the cultural themes among both the Greek and Jewish cultures during the Hellenistic period was allegorical interpretation of their theological works. One example of this was the Heraclitus who wrote Homeric Problems. In this work, Heraclitus HomericusWikipedia's W.svg explained that when Homer spoke of Aphrodite’s infidelity with Ares, he was talking about one of two things. Either Ares was a metaphor for strife and Aphrodite was a metaphor for love and their infidelity represented how ‘these old adversaries (give) up their former contention and (come) together in concord.’ Or Ares was a metaphor for iron, Hephaestus (Aphrodite’s husband) was a metaphor for fire, and Aphrodite represented the craftsmanship needed to turn the iron softened by fire into things like swords.[14]

In Philo’s case, he applied allegorical interpretation to the Hebrew Scriptures in order to explain their meaning. One passage that Philo applied this technique on was Genesis 1:27 which states “So God created man in his own image, in the image God created he him.” This passage was a theological problem in Hellenistic Judaism as the metaphysical versions of God promoted by the Greek philosophers conflicted with the more anthropomorphic version of God found in Genesis. In essence, the problem was “If God lacks a body, then how could God make man in his own image?” Philo’s solution was to argue that mankind was modeled after God’s logos, which meant creative reason in Hellenistic culture. This allegorical interpretation can be found in passages of Philo’s work such as the following.

No mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word (Logos) of the Supreme Being.
Questions and Answers on Genesis II, 62[15]

Philo would also incorporate the concept of logos into his metaphysical triad. Philo’s idea of how God was organized can be found in the following passage.

The one in the middle is the father of the universe, who in the sacred scriptures is called by his proper name, I am that I am; and the beings on each side are those most ancient powers which are always close to the living God, one of which is called his creative power (logos), and the other his royal power. And the creative power is God, for it is by this that he made and arranged the universe; and the royal power is the Lord, for it is fitting that the Creator should lord it over and govern the creature.
On Abraham, Chp. xxiv 121[16]

Early Christians such as Justin Martyr would continue the philosophy begun by Hellenistic Jewish philosophers. Like Aristobulus and his idea that Plato and Pythagoras had borrowed their ideas from Moses, Justin would argue that Socrates and Heraclitus of Ephesus were unknowingly Christian.[17] And like Philo, Justin would create his own version of a metaphysical triad that incorporated God’s logos.

Logos as Christos[edit]

There was another religious movement that was occurring during the same time Philo was promoting the idea that humankind was modeled after God's logos. In Roman Judea, a series of Jewish rebels were claiming to be the Jewish messiah. The first of these was Simon of PeraeaWikipedia's W.svg and he led a revolt that burnt the royal palace at Jericho. This occurred shortly after Herod died (4 BCE). Another interesting rebel leader was an Egyptian who led a revolt at the Mount of Olives before many of his followers were killed mad he mysteriously disappeared (approximately 52-58 CE). When the Hebrew word for messiah (mashiach)[18] was translated into Greek it became christos[19]. The author(s) of John incorporated the idea that logos becomes flesh.

And the Word (logos) was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

The idea that Christ was logosWikipedia's W.svg has been maintained in Christianity ever since.

The Bible as the Word of God[edit]

While the Greek concept of logos is still maintained by Christians as 'creative reason' remains a part of their trinity, there is a different notion among Christians that the Bible is literally the Word of God. They will often use the Word as justification for Divine command theory which for Christians is the position that Biblical injunctions are the only possible basis for morals, ethics, and law.

The idea that the Bible is the word of God presupposes several assumptions:

  1. There is a (single, unique - or indeed any) God
  2. God uses expressions of ordinary (human) language to express its will, intentions, commands, etc.
  3. A literal reading of this language is both necessary and sufficient for establishing moral/ethical/legal precepts

One can take issue with all three assumptions.

1 - Uniqueness of the Word of God[edit]

Counterargument - Even strong belief in a (unique) supreme being (as seen in all monotheistic religions) is insufficient to establish the God of the Bible as this (unique) being

The greatest problem with the first assumption is that the same "word of God" argument can be used to justify in turn the Old Testament system, the New Testament system, the system of Islamic law, the system of Latter Day Saints rules and regulations, and so forth. To the extent that these systems contradict each other in significant aspects, it is clear that they can't all be the same word of the same God. This, in spite of the contrary intention of those using this phrase as an argument in favor of their particular brand of orthodoxy, opens the door to moral relativism.

2- Verbal revelation[edit]

Counterargument - An equally broad secular mystic tradition asserts that God uses mathematics to lay down the law

The second assumption, that God directly communicated his intentions to the humans who wrote down the Scriptures, looks hopelessly naive. The problem is not just that the idea is naive, for there may be naive ideas that turn out to be right, but rather that we lack evidence. To the extent there is evidence (and we can, for the sake of the argument, admit a broad class of evidence including fables and traditions) the same evidence of divine inspiration is also available for the Buddha, for Confucius, and for other sages outside scriptural bounds. In this respect too, the "word of God" line of argumentation opens the door to moral relativism.

3- Literalism[edit]

Counterargument - As with any writing of great antiquity, the philological and conceptual difficulties in establishing a literal reading are immense.

The final assumption (which usually takes the form that the King James Version of the Bible is all one needs to study) is contradicted by a mountain of scholarship, both religious and secular. Internal evidence in various parts of the Bible credit the Word of God as also the word of (for example) Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, Saint John, Saint Paul and Saint Peter. Tradition adds other writers: Moses and Ezra, to name but two. Different emphases, different original languages and different styles distinguish different passages. Various religious traditions regard various sets of text as biblically canonical. The revealed Word of God emerges as a Word for all seasons. Moreover, as Thomas Paine pointed out in the Age of Reason the bible contradicts itself thus violating the Law of noncontradictionWikipedia's W.svg. Note further that the natural growth of the halakha (and other biblically grounded forms of law over the millennia) proves that those interested in maintaining a biblical system of justice do not find the word of God sufficient as it is. It is also highly debatable whether a religious (let alone Biblical) foundation of morals/ethics/law is necessary.

God's Word®[edit]

God's Word® is a registered trademark of God's Word to the Nations of Orange Park, FL.[20]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. The root for spermatikos, sperma, means the seed of plants, also of animals. The English word sperm is derived from the Greek word sperma.
  2. Ptolemy II Philadelphus asked seventy-two Jewish scholars to translate the Torah from Biblical Hebrew into Greek, for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria.

References[edit]