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Why Foreign Missions? 20g. The Gospel According to Paul—Word Study 4. Logos

Why Foreign Missions? 20g. The Gospel According to Paul—Word Study 4. Logos

A fourth word used for the ‘Gospel’ by various New Testament authors is ‘Logos.’  This is a very general word that has to do with something spoken: it is most often simply translated as ‘word.’  Other translations may be more appropriate, depending on the context, such as ‘matter,’ ‘thing,’ reckoning,’ ‘assertion,’ ‘declaration,’ ‘reason,’ etc.  An examination of various passages referring to God’s Word will give us further insight into the content of the Gospel, the Word of God, which the Church proclaims.  This study will address the use of the Word in the New Testament in general.  Distinctive usages by this or that author will be evident as we proceed.

God’s Word is Continuous between Both Testaments

The Word is God’s revelation.  It is equivalent with God’s Law and the Old Testament Scriptures, as we can see in the following passages:

God’s Law: Mark 7:13 … thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this." (Cf. Mt. 15.6).

Old Testament Scriptures: Romans 9.6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel.

Whether a universal or particular revelation, God’s Word in the Old Testament is continuous with the revelation of his Word in Jesus Christ.  As a universal Law, God’s Logos is his word, his wisdom by which he creates and rules the world, and therefore also his Law.[1]  On this understanding, God’s Word is for all people.  It is universal and eternal, a way of speaking of natural revelation.  The Gospel, too, can be understood as God’s plan from the foundations of the earth—an unfolding plan in time and a plan that God set in place for humans from the beginning.  Paul’s description of this plan includes saying that, ‘with all wisdom and insight, [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ’ (Eph. 1.8b-9).  This language (wisdom, insight, mystery, good pleasure) works at the level of universal revelation in creation: even the particular revelation of Jesus Christ is something set in God’s plan at the time of creation.

Yet God’s Word is also a special or particular revelation in the coming of Christ.  The opening verses of Ephesians that refer to God’s unwavering plan from all eternity flow into language that is more particular, unfolding in the Gospel now being proclaimed and experienced.  Paul says, ‘In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit’ (Eph. 1.13).

The unfolding and particular revelation of God’s word is also a frequent notion in the Old Testament.  Repeatedly, the ‘word of the Lord’ is said to have come to the prophets.  The prophets are those who hear and reveal what God tells them; they speak the word of the Lord.  Thus the use of the word ‘Word’ in reference to the Gospel also carries a ring that this is not just someone’s message about salvation but a direct communication from God. 

Jesus is the Word

In John’s prologue, Jesus himself is referred to as ‘the Word’ (Jn. 1.1, 14), God’s revelation to the world. Also, in Revelation, we read: ‘He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God’ (Rev. 19.13).  Paul identifies the message that he proclaims as the ‘word of Christ’ (objective genitive; Rom. 10.17).  When Luke says, ‘This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country’ (Lk. 7.17), the thought is moving in the direction of the content of the Gospel extending beyond the message of the Kingdom of God per se, for Jesus is the content of the Word that is being spread far and wide.

The Word is What Jesus Taught

Mark uses ‘the Word’ as a short-hand way of referring to what Jesus taught—the Kingdom of God.  Mark does not explain that ‘the Word’ refers to the Kingdom of God, but this is clear because that was Jesus’ message (Mk. 1.15).  Thus we find in Mk. 2.2 an unexplained reference to ‘the Word.’  This is also true of Luke (see Lk. 4.32, 36; 10.39).  Similarly, the parable of the soils (or sower) is explained by Mark simply by saying that the seed is ‘the Word’ (Mk. 4.14-20, also v. 33).[2]  Matthew nuances this more by saying that it is the word of the kingdom (Mt. 13.19), whereas Luke says that the seed is the word of God (Lk. 8.11, 21).  Mark’s undefined term allows the reader to relate Jesus’ kingdom message with the word of God.

Luke not only refers to Jesus’ message as the ‘Word of God’ (Lk. 5.1; 8.11, 21; 11.28), but he also refers to ‘this word’ concerning Jesus spreading throughout Judea and the surrounding country (Lk. 7.17).  The word of Jesus, his kingdom message, is like the word of the Lord that came to many Old Testament prophets, and it is equally a word about Jesus.

The Word is What the Church Teaches, the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The word is what the Church teaches.  This is probably the meaning of the term in Luke 1.2, rather than that it refers simply to the message of the coming of God’s kingdom:

Luke 1.2 … just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word….

The reason for saying this is that later in Acts, Luke’s second work, ‘the word’ is what the disciples proclaim and what hearers believe (cf. Acts 2.41; 4.4, 29, 31).  The initially ambiguous phrase ‘the word of God’ in Acts 6.2 means the Gospel because this is clearly what it means in Acts 6.7:

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The ‘Word’ also refers to the Gospel in Acts 8.4, as does the ‘Word of God’ in Acts 8.14.  The frequent Old Testament phrase ‘the Word of the Lord,’ when used in Acts, takes on the meaning the Word about the Lord Jesus (Acts 8.25; 13.44, 48; 15.35-36; 16.32; 19.10, 20).  If one presses this connection, and perhaps we should, then the prophetic word that comes from God has come to full expression in the Church’s proclamation of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.  Acts 10.26 equates the ‘Word’ with the proclaiming of the good news of peace through Jesus Christ.  This ‘Word’ or ‘Word of God’ is what is otherwise called the ‘Gospel’ (see especially Acts 15.7: ‘the word of the Gospel’), it is what the Church proclaims (Acts 10.44; 11.1, 19; 12.24; 13.5, 7, 46, 49; 14.25; 16.6; 17.11, 13; 18.11).[3]  It is the ‘Word of this salvation’ (Acts 13.26).

This language of the ‘Word’ being used for the ‘Gospel,’ is also found outside of Luke and Acts:

Romans 10:8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)….

1 Peter 1:25 … but the word of the Lord endures forever." That word is the good news that was announced to you.

1 Peter 2:8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

The Word is Unalterable

The word is something to be received and passed on, not something to be altered by different communities: ‘Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?’ (1 Cor. 14.36).  This is a point that could be further established by referencing many of the texts listed under other categories as well as by examining other words used for the Gospel.  Yet the point is worth emphasising here simply because recent decades have spilt much ink on how to go about contextualizing, enculturating, or translating the Gospel into some other context, culture, or idiom.  There is some truth to this, but only once one realizes that the particularity of the Gospel must remain when doing so.  That is, the Gospel is not some abstract notion, such as love, liberation, or justice; it is, on the contrary, the very particular message of Jesus Christ.  It is, moreover, not a message on target for different groups by being what they need or wish to hear, but it is a message on target for different groups precisely because all groups need to hear God’s universal revelation in Jesus Christ.

The Word is Truth

God’s Word, his Law, is said to be the ‘Word of truth’ (logos alētheias): ‘Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your ordinances’ (Ps. 119. 43; cf. Jn. 17.17).  Ephesians and Colossians actually identify the ‘Word of truth’ with the ‘Gospel’:[4]

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1.13).

… because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel (Col. 1.5).

The ‘Word of truth’ is undoubtedly also the Gospel in 2 Timothy and James:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth (2 Tim. 2.15).

In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures (James 1.18).

In 2 Corinthians, Paul draws a connection between the Gospel as God’s Word and the means by which he proclaims the Word: ‘We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God’ (2 Cor. 4.2).  In this, Paul is distinguishing himself from the  Greek orators,[5] who placed a premium on clever discourse over presenting the truth: ‘For we are not peddlers of God's word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence’ (2 Cor. 2.17).

The Proper Response to the Word

The proper response to the proclaimed Word is to receive, believe, and let it work in Christians’ lives:

1 Thessalonians 1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit

1 Thessalonians 2:13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.

Titus 2:5 … to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 6:5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come….

James 1:18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

James 1:21-23 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.  22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.  23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;

1 Peter 1:23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

The Word is More than a Message: It Gives Life

That the Word is a transforming power is clear from texts that speak of it as giving life.  If the connection is made between God’s laws and his word, as in Psalm 119, then God’s ‘Word’ is life-giving: ‘My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word’ (v. 28).  God’s law, his Word, is life-giving because not to follow it means death, whereas to follow it means to live: ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…’ (Dt. 30.19).  Paul also connects God’s Word to life: ‘It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain’ (Phl. 2.16).

That the Gospel Word is life-transforming, not just a message to be considered and accepted or rejected, is particularly clear in 1 John:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--  2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us--  3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1.1-3).

The problem that John addresses in this letter is that some have denied that they have a need to change—that they have sinned and need a life-transforming Word of God to change them.  John says, ‘If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us’ (1 Jn. 1.10).  Over against such people, believers both accept the need for such a Word and the need to obey God’s Word (1 Jn. 2.7), which is the same as saying that believers are experiencing a life-transforming work of God because they are in Christ: ‘but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him…’ (1 Jn. 2.5).  This is what it means for the Word of God to abide in believers (1 Jn. 2.14).

The power of God’s Word is also taught in Revelation, where the power of evil threatens to overwhelm believers.  One may be tempted to think that merely believing and keeping God’s Word is a powerless response to the onslaught of evil, but this is not so: ‘But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death’ (Rev. 12.11).  Believers need to keep God’s Word (Rev. 3.8, 10), even in the face of martyrdom (Rev. 6.9), for they shall be raised from the dead and reign with Christ:

Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection (Rev. 20.4-5).

Some Have the Special Task of Travelling to Make the Word Known

While many New Testament passages attest to a travelling ministry to get the Gospel message out to the nations, the following from Paul and Revelation are those that use the word ‘Word’ in stating so:

Colossians 1:25-26   25 I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,  26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.

Colossians 4:3-4   3 At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison,  4 so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

2 Thessalonians 3:1   Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you,

Revelation 1:2 … who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Some Within the Local Church Have the Task of Teaching the Word

One might get the idea that the Gospel is a simple message that can be proclaimed in a brief space of time.  While speeches in Acts give us evidence of how this may be done, they also show us how much the audience really needs to understand in order to hear a short message of the Gospel.  Thus it is not surprising to hear also of being taught the Word, and such teaching appears to be more the purpose of the local church than hearing motivational sermons:

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher’ (Gal. 6.6).

Consider the elders presiding well to be worthy of double honour, particularly those labouring in word and teaching (1 Tim. 5.17, my translation[6]). 

Similarly, the author of Hebrews exhorts the churches to which he writes to ‘Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith’ (13.7).

Many are Involved in Proclaiming the Word

Despite the fact that teaching the Word is a task for travelling ministers of the Gospel and for special teachers in the Church, proclamation of the Word seems to be a task open for every believer, not just a special missionary task force.[7]  That Paul speaks of brothers (the NRSV quote has ‘brothers and sisters’), not, e.g., ‘evangelists,’ in the following verse is one reason that I maintain this view (note also that the ‘Word’ is a proclamation of Christ):

… and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.  15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill.  16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel;  17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment (Phl. 1.14-17).

Some other passages using the word ‘Logos’ also support the view that believers are called to proclaim the Gospel.  The entire body of believers is encouraged to engage in ‘Gospel teaching and admonition’ with each other as part of the worship service: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God’ (Col. 3.16).

While the Col. 3.16 passage looks inwardly at believers speaking the Word to each other, the Thessalonian church ‘sounded forth’ the word of the Lord—certainly in the nature of their lives and community, but quite likely (why not?) also in proclamation: ‘For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.’  That the Gospel can be proclaimed in deed is, however, a possibility, as the pun on ‘word’ in 1 Pt. 3.1 shows: ‘Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives' conduct….’

In fact, the Word of God is not dependent on special ministers such as Paul, who knows full well that God will proclaim his Word however he wishes: ‘… for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained’ (2 Tim. 2.9).

Conclusions

A summary of the observations made in this word study may be presented by repeating the sub-headings, even though I recognize that the material might have been arranged somewhat differently (readers have many of the relevant passages presented here if they choose to rethink the categories).

  •          God’s Word is continuous between both testaments
  •          Jesus is the Word
  •          The Word is what the Church teaches, the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  •          The Word is unalterable
  •          The Word is truth
  •          The Word is the Gospel that is being proclaimed and taught
  •          The proper response to the proclaimed Word is to receive, believe, and let it work in Christians’ lives
  •          The Word is more than a message: it gives life
  •          Some have the special task of travelling to make the Word known
  •          Some within the local church have the task of teaching the Word
  •          Many are involved in proclaiming the Word
This word study confirms observations already made.  There is an Old Testament basis for the usage of ‘logos’ in regard to the Gospel.  The Word of God—at creation, his Law, the Old Testament Scriptures-- extend in the New Testament into the words of Jesus (Synoptic Gospels), Jesus as the Word (John’s Gospel), and the Church’s Gospel—all are divine revelation that is life giving.  Also, prophetic messages were identified with the phrase, ‘the Word of the Lord came to…,’ and so the revelation of God has now come fully in Jesus Christ.  The content of this Word is Jesus himself, not some abstract principle waiting to be applied in diverse ways and places.  There is also a relationship between God’s Law as life-giving Word and God’s Gospel being a transformative Word.  It is unalterable, it is truth, it must be believed, but it also gives life.  Such a precious Word is not restricted to a few to proclaim it, even though not all travel and not all are designated to teach the Word in the local church.  Indeed, the Word is proclaimed by many believers in word and deed, to one another and to those outside the community of believers.



[1] The Stoic ‘Hymn to Zeus’ by Cleanthes states that Zeus guides nature by ‘the universal Word of reason.’  The Cynic, Crates, spoke of the ‘Logos’ that guides the human soul (Ep. 31).  Yet, as +Craig Keener concludes, ‘: ‘the concept of a universally present Logos naturally enough gave way to pantheism both in Heraclitus and in Stoic thought—a concept intolerably alien to the spheres of thought in which our evangelist moved.  Whereas the Stoic Logos permeates the ‘world’, the Johannine Logos is opposed by the world (1:10).  John’s Logos is also personal, in contrast to the abstract principle of Greek philosophy’ (Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), pp. 342-3).  The Jewish philosopher, Philo, combines the Greek notion of Logos with Jewish ideas: the Logos is the angel of God (Fug. 1.5; Somn. 1.239), , God’s gracious covenant with Noah—his law and Word (Somn. 2.223), and the image of God by which he made the world (Spec. 1.8; cf. Somn. 2.45).  This last point is also found in the Aramaic translation of Gen. 1: ‘: ‘in the beginning in wisdom the son of the Lord created the heavens and the earth’… ‘and the word of the Lord said ‘Let there be light’ (Neofiti, my translation).  Also, Ps. 33.6 states that ‘By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made.’  Wisdom is also characterised as creator in Judaism (Prov. 8.12-31; Wisd. 7.22-8.1), and Wisdom and God’s Law are related (Wisd. 15.1-5; Sir. 2.15-16; 15.1; 19.20).  Indeed, God’s ‘Word’ is God’s Law (cf. Ps. 119.11, 89 [LXX: ‘Your Word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens’]).
[2] Note also that Jesus’ teaching can be referred to as his ‘words’—Mk. 13.31; Lk. 9.26; 21.33; 24.44.
[3] Cf. also the references just given for ‘word of the Lord.’
[4] Thus we can see that the otherwise enigmatic references to ‘word’ in Ephesians are references to the Gospel:
Ephesians 5:26  [Christ makes the Church, his bride] holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,
Ephesians 6:17  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of
            God.
[5] See +Bruce Winter, ‘The Entries and Ethics of Orators and Paul (1 Thessalonians 2.1-12),’ Tyndale Bulletin
44.14 (1993): 55-74.  Online at:
[6] The NRSV, ESV, and NIV, for example, all translate the word ‘Word’ as preaching, which carries all the baggage of what the reader understands by preaching today.  What does it mean to ‘labour in word’?  Here, ‘logos’ has no article (the Word), which may mean that we should not understand this to be labouring in the Gospel.  Yet this is not conclusive.  The NET Bible translates this as ‘work hard in speaking’—surely an improvement in that no assumptions about 1st century church services having sermons are made.  The World English Bible offers ‘labor in the word and in teaching,’ which suggests to the average reader that ‘to labour in word’ means to study the Bible instead of public speaking.  That Paul speaks of being ‘entrusted’ with the Word, which is a revelation of the Word in proclamation (Tit. 1.3) gives us some insight into the ‘labour’ involved in the Word, the Gospel: this is a serious and major task.  Yet here we have the article, ‘the Word.’  Timothy, too, is an ‘unashamed workman’ set the task of ‘rightly guiding the Word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2.15).  Again, the article is present in this verse.  Readers who do not know Greek need to know that Greek does not need an article for the noun to be definite, unlike English (some European languages, such as Croatian, have no articles at all).  Thus we might say that to ‘labour in the word’ could mean to be involved in right proclamation of the Gospel—and teaching—in 1 Tim. 5.17.  Otherwise, it may simply mean ‘to labour at public speaking’ in the church.  This would mean something like what we find in Tit. 1.9: ‘He must hold firm to the trustworthy word [the Gospel] as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it’ (ESV; the NRSV again confuses readers by translating ‘give instruction’ as ‘preaching’).  Modern readers, though, need to avoid assuming that the early Church had sermons in the sense that contemporary churches do.  Indeed, if only churches sought out ministers on the basis of their ability to teach and present the Gospel rather than their public speaking abilities!
[7] This matter will be addressed in more detail at a later time.