Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Logos Vs A Word Christianity

There is perhaps no greater translational tragedy than the simple fact that the word 'Logos', which plays such an important role in the New Testament, has no easy translation into English, or in fact into many other languages. There are some languages that translate Logos easily, like Chinese. The Greek concept of Logos roughly tracks the Chinese concept of Tao, and so Logos is translated into Tao in Chinese.

In English "Logos" is translated "Word", and this is about as good as it gets, though in truth "Word" is terribly inadequate. The Greek Philosophers were constantly seeking the idea that formed the foundation of the Universe. Each Greek philosopher put forth their own idea or concept which they thought was the one true idea which founded existence. Heraclitus, for example thought change itself was the idea that underlay all things. Whereas Plato thought it was the Form of the Good. What unified them was the conviction that the human mind could discern this one unifying idea or thought which would make sense of all things.

In the Gospel of John, this entire Greek quest is swallowed up in Christianity. John 1 says that Jesus is the Logos, literally the living idea that is the foundation of all things. If you want to know Ultimate Truth, if you want to understand all things, look at Jesus Himself. This is roughly what John says. But the translation into Word has simply identified Jesus with the words of God in the Old and New Testaments. The laws, the commands, the prophecies, these are what Jesus is seen as 'embodying' for most Christians. But for the original writers of John, it was more about this quest to understand or to see the great unifying idea of the universe.

Justin Martyr used this idea to build bridges with Greek thought and other religions. Other religions are said to have some handle on the Logos, and so can contain some truth about God. But they are incomplete, they have but shadows of what is fully on display on in Jesus Christ. Justin Martyr and others like him, were vehemently Christocentric, seeing Christ as the key to understanding everything. But Christ was an interpretive center around which other intellectual outputs were arranged. The Logos can be discerned in any number of ways. But it cannot be fully related to except through Christ Jesus. Thus Greek Philosophy was not abandoned, but incorporated into the Christian faith, seen as something akin to the Old Testament.

A Word-based Christianity demands nothing but what is said in scripture itself. It looks at everything else, every other intellectual and spiritual output, with a skeptical eye. A Logos-based Christianity makes Christ the center of all things, but doesn't deny that the truth which Christ embodied was here to be touched and discerned before and after He got here.

In China, when the Logos was translated "Tao", in that moment all of Chinese philosophy...Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism, was swallowed up into the Johannine Christian tradition. Nothing that came before was destroyed or left behind, but rather completed with the coming of Christ. In the west, when Logos was identified with Word, the Bible became the sole rather than the supreme source of knowledge of the true and the good. Thus creating walls and barriers that problematize our lives to this day. Proving something that my philosophy friends are often insisting upon: words matter. 

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