Paul E. Kretzmann


The opening verses of the Gospel according to St. John have given occasion to numerous expositions which refuse to distinguish between inspiration and philosophy. John’s choice of a name for Christ especially has brought on a veritable flood of opinions concerning the influence of pagan philosophy upon the doctrine of Christianity. It has been stated that the evangelist tried to effect a compromise between Platonic and Stoic ideas, on the one hand, and the fundamentals of Christianity, on the other. The old Greek philosopher Plato had written much about nous and logos, and the later schools of philosophy had carried out the ideas and founded a philosophical system which, about the time that John wrote his gospel, began to be known as the Neo-Platonic. One man especially made use of the terms of Plato in the attempt to harmonize Jewish theology and Greek philosophy. That was the Greek Jew Philo, of Alexandria, Egypt, who lived from about 20 B. C. to about 42 A. D. He makes use of the term logos throughout his writings, sometimes in a definite, then again in a vague way, to bring out his mystical speculations. For this reason many critics have stated that John borrowed the term from Philo, together with many of the latter’s philosophical deductions. [Clarke, Commentary, 5, 522-525; The Logos in the Fourth Gospel in Constructive Quarterly, 6 (1918), 347-362; Does the Fourth Gospel Depend upon Pagan Traditions? in American Journal of Theology, 12 (1908), 529-546]. But a careful comparison of the works of Philo with the gospel of John and with all other New Testament books shows that Philo’s logos is a vague, shadowy conception, as unreal to himself, perhaps, as it is to any one else, that it is merely a philosophic conception, the joint product of a peculiar theory respecting the nature of the Deity and the fact of the existence of the material universe. “The mere thought of an incarnation of the Logos would have been in the highest degree abhorrent to the tastes and sensibilities of the Alexandrians.” [Theol. Quart., 8 (1904), 71. 65-86].

Comparison with other religions

Other critics have identified the Logos of John with the memra of Jewish philosophical reflections. They refer to the Targum of Onkelos on Genesis 3:8, who substitutes “The voice of the word of the Lord” for “The voice of the Lord God”; the Jerusalem Targum, which has, on Genesis 22:14: “Abraham invoked in the name of the word of the Lord,” and many others. Critics have even found many parallels in the Persian Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster and in other writings. But the memra of the Jews in their Chaldee paraphrases of the Old Testament is nothing more than the product of theological reflection, just as that of Philo is the result of philosophic speculation. It is a device invented in order to render the notion of revelation conceivable to Jewish thought. But of such an idea there is nowhere a trace in the prolog of John. [Theol. Quart., l. c., 78; Schaff, Commentary, John, 55. 56].

Old Testament origin

The conclusion that the believing commentator is bound to reach is “that, inspired by God, the Apostle John fixed on the word Logos (which was entirely familiar to him from the inspired writings of the Old Testament, especially from Genesis 1; Psalm 33, and others) as a designation of Jesus Christ, not only because the teaching of the Old Testament suggested it as singularly appropriate, but also in order to expose the futility of the Logos theories that had sprung up in the soil of pagan and semi-pagan philosophy.” “Where among Christians Logos was mentioned without further restriction, nothing else could have been meant and understood, nor intended so, than the Word which was now preached and believed. … But this Word is now Christ Himself: He personally is the Word which God has sent into the world, He is personally the essential, not only the final revelation. For in both respects He may be called the Word, inasmuch as He is spoken by God into the world, and inasmuch as He is now preached in the world. … Only one Word the apostles brought, but a Word of whom they could testify that He was with God and was God, before the world came into existence, because this is true of Christ whom they preach, and who is even now, wherever He permits Himself to be preached, the Word intended for the world, to be believed by the world, just as it was in the days of His flesh. … Since John begins his book with a statement concerning the Word, he surely means the Word which is now in the world for the purpose of being believed and for giving to the believers eternal life.” [Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, 1, 109. 110].

The Word from eternity

“Further we should know that there is a Word in God, unlike my word or thy word. For we also have a word, especially the word of the heart, as the holy fathers call it, as, when a person meditates upon something and diligently searches, then he has a word or conversation with himself of which no one knows but he alone. … Thus God also in eternity, in His majesty and divine essence, had a word, speech, conversation, and thought in His divine heart with Himself, unknown to all angels and men. That is called His Word, which was from eternity in His fatherly heart, by which God has determined to create heaven and earth. But of such will of God no person ever knew until that same Word became flesh and declared it, as is stated afterwards: The Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” [Luther, 7, 1543].