Logos (Template:Pron-en or /ˈlɒgɒs/; Greek Template:Polytonic logos) is an important term in philosophy, analytical psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "word," "account," or "reason,"[1] it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus (ca. 535475 BC), who used the term for the principle of order and knowledge in the universe.[2]

The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to rational discourse. The Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the universe. After Judaism came under Hellenistic influence, Philo (ca. 20 BC40 AD) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy.[3] The Gospel of John identifies the Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos),[4] and further identifies Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos.

In current use, Logos may refer to any of these senses. Outside academic discussions, the Christian sense, identifying Jesus with the Word of God, is perhaps the most common use.


In ordinary, non-technical Greek, logos had a semantic field extending beyond "word" to notions such as, on the one hand, language, talk, statement, speech, conversation, tale, story, prose, speech, proposition, and principle; and on the other hand, thought, reason, account, consideration, esteem, due relation, proportion, and analogy.[1]

Despite the conventional translation as "word", it is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term lexis (λέξις) was used.[5] However, both logos and lexis derive from the same verb legō (λέγω), meaning "to count, tell, say, speak".[1][5]

In English, logos is the root of "logic," and of the "-ology" suffix (e.g., geology).[6]

Use in Greek philosophyEdit


The writing of Heraclitus was the first place where the word logos was given special attention in ancient Greek philosophy.[7] Although Heraclitus seems to use the word with a meaning not significantly different from the way it was used in ordinary Greek of his time,[8] an independent existence of a universal logos is already suggested:[9]

This LOGOS holds always but humans always prove unable to understand it, both before hearing it and when they have first heard it. For though all things come to be in accordance with this LOGOS, humans are like the inexperienced when they experience such words and deeds as I set out, distinguishing each in accordance with its nature and saying how it is. But other people fail to notice what they do when awake, just as they forget what they do while asleep. (Diels-Kranz 22B1)
For this reason it is necessary to follow what is common. But although the LOGOS is common, most people live as if they had their own private understanding. (Diels-Kranz 22B2)
Listening not to me but to the LOGOS it is wise to agree that all things are one. (Diels-Kranz 22B50)[10]

Aristotle's rhetorical logosEdit

Template:Unreferenced section Following one of the other meanings of the word, Aristotle gave logos a different technical definition as argument from reason, one of the three modes of persuasion (the other two modes are pathos (Template:Lang-el), persuasion by means of emotional appeal, and ethos, persuasion through convincing listeners of one's moral competence).[citation needed]

Arguments from reason (logical arguments) have some advantages, namely that data are (ostensibly) difficult to manipulate, so it is harder to argue against such an argument; and such arguments make the speaker look prepared and knowledgeable to the audience, enhancing ethos.[citation needed]

The StoicsEdit

In Stoic philosophy, which began with Zeno of Citium c. 300 BC, the logos was the active reason pervading the universe and animating it. It was conceived of as material, and is usually identified with God or Nature. The Stoics also referred to the seminal logos, ("logos spermatikos") or the law of generation in the universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos.[11]

Philo of AlexandriaEdit

Philo (20 BC - 50 AD), a Hellenized Jew, used the term Logos to mean an intermediary divine being, or demiurge.[3] Philo followed the Platonic distinction between imperfect matter and perfect idea, and therefore intermediary beings were necessary to bridge the enormous gap between God and the material world.[12] The Logos was the highest of these intermediary beings, and was called by Philo "the first-born of God."[12] Philo also wrote that "the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated."[13]

The Platonic Ideas were located within the Logos, but the Logos also acted on behalf of God in the physical world.[12] In particular, the Angel of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was identified with the Logos by Philo, who also said that the Logos was God's instrument in the creation of the universe.[12]

Use in ChristianityEdit

Christ the LogosEdit

The Christian concept of the Logos is derived from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, where the Logos (often translated as “Word”) is described in terms that resemble, but go well beyond, the ideas of Philo:[14]

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.[15]

John also explicitly identifies the Logos with Jesus:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[a] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' "[16]

Christians who profess belief in the Trinity often consider John 1:1 to be a central text in their belief that Jesus is God, in connection with the idea that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are equals.

The Fourth Gospel may give answers to three groups: Jews, Gnostics, and followers of John the Baptist.

  • Jews. To the rabbis who spoke of the Torah (Law) as preexistent, as God's instrument in creation, and is the source of light and life, John replied that these claims apply rather to the Logos.
  • Gnostics. To the Gnostics who would deny a real incarnation, John's answer was most emphatic: "the Word became flesh."Template:Bibleref2c
  • Followers of John the Baptist. To those who stopped with John the Baptist, he made it clear that John was not the Light but only witness to the Light. Template:Bibleref2c

Although the term Logos is not retained as a title beyond the prologue, the whole book of John presses these basic claims. As the Logos, Jesus Christ is God in self-revelation (Light) and redemption (Life). He is God to the extent that he can be present to man and knowable to man. The Logos is God,Template:Bibleref2c and the risen Christ is worshiped by Thomas, who fell at his feet saying, "My Lord and my God."Template:Bibleref2c-nb Yet the Logos is in some sense distinguishable from God, for "the Logos was with God."Template:Bibleref2c-nb God and the Logos are not two beings, and yet they are also not simply identical. In contrast to the Logos, God can be conceived (in principle at least) also apart from his revelatory action─although we must not forget that the Bible speaks of God only in his revelatory action. The paradox that the Logos is God and yet it is in some sense distinguishable from God is maintained in the body of the Gospel. That God as he acts and as he is revealed does not "exhaust" God as he is, is reflected in sayings attributed to Jesus: I and the Father are one"Template:Bibleref2c and also, "the Father is greater than I."Template:Bibleref2c-nb The Logos is God active in creation, revelation, and redemption. Jesus Christ not only gives God's Word to us humans; he is the Word.Template:Bibleref2c-nb Template:Bibleref2c-nb He is the true word─ultimate reality revealed in a Person. The Logos is God, distinguishable and thought yet not separable in fact.

Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology.[17]

"God" or "a god" Edit

The last four words of John 1:1 (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, literally "God was the Logos," or "God was the Word") have been a particular topic of debate within Christianity. In this construct, the subject (the Logos) and the complement (God) both appear in the nominative case, and the complement is therefore usually distinguished by dropping any article, and moving it before the verb.[18][19] Grammatically, the phrase could therefore read either "the Word was God" or "the Word was a god." Early New Testament manuscripts did not distinguish upper and lower case,[18] so that pre-existing beliefs about the Trinity have influenced translation, although many scholars see the movement of "God" to the front of the clause as indicating an emphasis more consistent with "the Word was God."[20][21][22][23] Some translations, such as An American Translation[24] and Moffatt, New Translation,[25] preserve a sense of ambiguity with "the Word was divine." Related translations have also been suggested, such as "what God was the Word also was."[26]

While "the Word was God" is by far the most common English translation,[27] non-Trinitarian groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses (in their Emphatic Diaglott and New World Translation) and Unitarians (in Thomas Belsham's modification[28] of William Newcome's version) translate "the Word was a god."

Early Christian writersEdit

Following John 1, the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c 150) identified Jesus as the Logos.[29][30] Like Philo, Justin also identified the Logos with the Angel of the Lord, and used this as a way of arguing for Christianity to Jews:

I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos;[31]

In his First Apology, Justin used the Stoic concept of the Logos as a way of arguing for Christianity to non-Jews. Since a Greek audience would accept this concept, his argument could concentrate on identifying this Logos with Jesus.[29] However, Justin does not go so far as to articulate a fully consistent doctrine of the Logos.[29]

Modern Christian writersEdit

On April 1, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who would become Pope Benedict XVI just over two weeks later) referred to the Christian religion as the religion of the Logos:

Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the "Logos." It is faith in the "Creator Spiritus," in the Creator Spirit, from which proceeds everything that exists. Today, this should be precisely its philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not, therefore, other than a "sub-product," on occasion even harmful of its development or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal.

The Christian faith inclines toward this second thesis, thus having, from the purely philosophical point of view, really good cards to play, despite the fact that many today consider only the first thesis as the only modern and rational one par excellence. However, a reason that springs from the irrational, and that is, in the final analysis, itself irrational, does not constitute a solution for our problems. Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way. In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the "Logos," from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.[32]

Jung's analytical psychologyEdit

In Carl Jung's analytical psychology, logos is used for the masculine principle of rationality, in contrast to its female counterpart, eros:

Woman’s psychology is founded on the principle of Eros, the great binder and loosener, whereas from ancient times the ruling principle ascribed to man is Logos. The concept of Eros could be expressed in modern terms as psychic relatedness, and that of Logos as objective interest.[33]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon: logos, 1889.
  2. Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed): Heraclitus, 1999.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed): Philo Judaeus, 1999.
  4. May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon: lexis, 1889.
  6. Oxford Dictionary definition: -logy repr. F. -logie, medL. -logia, Gr. -logíā, which is partly f. lógos discourse, speech, partly f. log-, var. of leg-, légein speak; hence derivs. in -logia mean either
  7. F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms, New York University Press, 1967.
  8. W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, 1962, pp. 419ff.
  9. W. K. C. Guthrie, The Greek Philosophers: From Thales to Aristotle, Methuen, 1967, p. 45.
  10. Translations from Richard D. McKirahan, Philosophy before Socrates, Hackett, 1994.
  11. Tripolitis, A., Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age, pages 37-38. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume 1, Continuum, 2003, pp. 458–462.
  13. Philo, De Profugis, cited in Gerald Friedlander, Hellenism and Christianity, P. Vallentine, 1912, pp. 114–115.
  14. Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "John" p. 302-310
  15. John 1:1–5, NIV (BibleGateway).
  16. John 1:14–15, NIV (BibleGateway).
  17. Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology, Broadman, 1962. ISBN 978-0805416138
  18. 18.0 18.1 J.W. Wenham, The Elements of New Testament Greek, Cambridge University Press, 1965, p. 35.
  19. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 68, ISBN 0802825044.
  20. William Hendriksen, The Gospel of John, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1959, p. 71.
  21. William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 2nd ed, Zondervan, 2003, pp. 27–28.
  22. F. F. Bruce, Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Gospel of John, Eerdmans , 1994, p. 31, ISBN 0802808832.
  23. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans , 1991, p. 117, ISBN 0802836836.
  24. Innvista: An American Translation (Smith-Goodspeed).
  25. Innvista: Moffatt, New Translation.
  26. Francis J. Moloney and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of John, Liturgical Press, 1998, p. 35. ISBN 0814658067.
  27. e.g. King James Version, Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New Living Translation, English Standard Version, and Young's Literal Translation, with even more emphatic translations being "the Word was God Himself" (Amplified Bible) or "the Word ... was truly God" (Contemporary English Version).
  28. The New Testament: in an improved version upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome's new translation, with a corrected text, and notes critical and explanatory.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Erwin R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009, pp. 139–175. ISBN 1113914270.
  30. Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Justin Martyr.
  31. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 61.
  32. Cardinal Ratzinger on Europe's crisis of culture, retrieved from
  33. Carl Jung, Aspects of the Feminine, Princeton University Press, 1982, p. 65, ISBN 0710095228.

External linksEdit


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