An article series based on Dr E. Michael Jones’ keynote address in the UNIV local chapter 2021. The recording may be accessed here.
Before we discuss what logos is, lets take a quick survey at the history of human thought.
One of the things that human beings are able to do, is think. It turns out that at some point in history, man was not so good at thinking. I say so because ancient people errored in thought. Many ancient peoples explained the universe using myths. In Greek mythology, for example you had twelve gods, each in charge of different things and constantly fighting each other.
Myths are stories, interesting most times, that societies come up with and pass down to generations. Kenyan nations too have myths to explain the nature and the origin of the world and the creatures in it. I’m sure you know some. The problem with myths is that they are unrealistic. Often they are imaginations of poets and storytellers.
Moving away from myths.
At some point in history, before Christ’s birth, different peoples began to seek more rational explanations of nature of the universe. They made simple observations and made conclusions. Of all the peoples who occupied themselves with this task, the Greeks seem to have taken the right direction and made the most strides.
It is in Greek thought that the question of matter was raised and seriously tackled. What made matter? The Greeks intuited that maybe one single element made all matter. You may have heard of the four elements: air, water, fire and earth. Someone called Thales, Greek philosopher, thought water made all matter. Anaxagoras said it was air, Heraclitus said it was fire.
The order of the universe.
These Greek men, were not right. But they did the make the first steps in coming to a correct answer. The idea of particles, we call them atoms, making up matter is implicit in these men’s thought. But that is not all, they stumbled into something much deeper.
Heraclitus, we can label him the ‘fire-man’ for our purposes, had a few things to add. He noticed that, “fire was always the same but also ever changing”. What did he mean by fire? He meant energy, which is always the same and also ever-changing. Remember your physics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, you can only transform it. You cannot create nor destroy it: it’s always the same. It always changing through transformations to other forms.
Remember this ‘fire-man’ was convinced that fire was the element at the root of all matter. Now he adds that this fire is always the same and at the same instance changing. Merging these two ideas, we understand that all reality is ever-changing but still remaining the same. This conclusion is not valid. But there is some truth in the observation of this fire-man. What is it?
The truth is that there is something transcendent in reality. There exists an order in the universe. This order, Heraclitus labelled Logos. In the Greek language, logos meant: word, speech, rationality. Ultimately it came to mean, courtesy of Heraclitus, the order of the universe.
But what significance did Heraclitus’ logos bring to human thought? The idea of logos, of transcendence, was the first time reality was expressed as something other than a material substance. It referred to something beyond the physical. It was a manifestation of God.
Logos applied to Christ.
St John the evangelist would later begin his Gospel thus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John knew Greek. He understood Greek philosophy. He wrote his gospel in Greek. For ‘Word’ in the above quotation, the Greek had ‘Logos’. Immediately John adds, “all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made,”. So how did the word ‘Logos’, in this case applied to Christ, ring in Greek eyes, or blink to Greek eyes?
John was telling the Greeks that Christ established the universe, all was made by and through him, he is God. Jesus is the order of the universe: he is not himself the universe, but rather its ultimate cause.
Up until then Logos meant the order of the universe, now it acquired, a greater meaning, the highest meaning, now it means Christ.
You may have read this verse before, a number of times in fact, but this meaning may not have come alive in you. Why is that? The reason is that English, Latin and other European languages translate ‘logos’, merely as ‘word’. For us ‘word’ does not mean the order of the universe. And so, to us, John’s opening, may not have rung as loud as it did to Greek ears!