Saturday, December 1, 2018

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The mystical Logos has many meanings in Greek philosophy and Jewish and Christian theology.  It’s central to the Gospel of John, which begins by presenting Jesus as the incarnate Logos (John 1:1-14), a divine theos and power coexistent with God through which all things are made.  The term is also used in Islamic Sufism.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher and contemporary of Jesus, saw the cosmos as a great chain of being over which Logos presided and was the mediator between God and the world.   Philo even considered the Logos as a second God, similar to how First Century Jews understood the divinity of Jesus as presented in John’s Gospel.

Logos is the concept that transforms the prophet Jesus into the Trinitarian alter ego of God for Christians.  Jews and Muslims consider Logos the transforming spiritual power of God’s love exemplified by Jesus and other great prophets; but most Christians believe that salvation is limited to those who believe in the Trinitarian Jesus and that unbelievers are condemned to hell.

That exclusivist belief is based on a literal interpretation of John 14:6: I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  It is one of the symbolic I am sayings of Jesus as the Logos in John’s gospel, and it subordinates the moral imperative of the new command to love one another (Jn 13:34) to belief in Jesus as the one and only Logos.  The new command is John’s equivalent of the greatest commandment in the other three Gospels.

In 2016 white evangelical Christians made Donald Trump their Logos when they elected him as president, and they continue to support him.  Trump is a moral abomination for both the Christian religion and American democracy.  He exemplifies the triumph of Satan’s will to divide and conquer Christians over God’s will to reconcile and redeem humanity.

Evangelical Christians like Jerry Falwell, Jr., assert that Trump was sent by God, and Trump acts the part, asserting that everything he says is true and any contradictions are false.  The irony is that while Trump’s Christian supporters believe that Jesus was the alter ego of God, they ignore Trump’s immoral blather and behavior that are the antithesis of Christian morality.

The myriad forms of Christianity in America fall into two categories.  One emphasizes following Jesus as the word of God (discipleship), and the other emphasizes belief in Jesus as the Trinitarian alter ego of God as the exclusivist means of salvation.  While the two can be combined, those Christians who support Trump ignore the moral imperatives taught by Jesus.

It’s hypocritical for Christians to worship Jesus without following his teachings.  Robin Meyers has reversed the inverted priorities of popular Christianity in his book, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus.  I have asked a related question: If democracy survives the Trump era, can the church survive democracy?   

How we understand Jesus as the Logos shapes our faith and our politics.  Was Jesus a great prophet who brought God’s word and truth to humankind, or was he God’s one and only Son who was a blood sacrifice to save us from sin?  If the Logos of God was not unique to one human being, we can believe that Jesus was the Logos, but not the first or last.  And we can believe that the resurrection was God’s affirmation that His transforming love would never die.  

Logos, from λέγω, légō, lit. 'I say') is a term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse".  it became a technical term in Western philosophy beginning with Heraclitus (c.  535 – c.  475 BC), who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge. ...Ancient Greek philosophers used the term in different ways. The sophists used the term to mean discourse; Aristotle applied the term to refer to "reasoned discourse" or "the argument" in the field of rhetoric, and considered it one of the three modes of persuasion alongside ethos and pathos.  Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the Universe. Within Hellenistic Judaism, Philo of Alexandria (c.  20 BC – c.  50 AD) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy. The Gospel of John identifies the Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos) and further identifies Jesus Christ as the incarnate Logos. The term is also used in Sufism. See

Philo [of Alexandria] saw the cosmos as a great chain of being presided over by the Logos, a term going back to pre-Socratic philosophy, which is the mediator between God and the world, though at one point he identifies the Logos as a second God. Philo departed from Plato principally in using the term Logos for the Idea of Ideas and for the Ideas as a whole and in his statement that the Logos is the place of the intelligible world. In anticipation of Christian doctrine he called the Logos the first-begotten Son of God, the man of God, the image of God, and second to God.
Philo was also novel in his exposition of the mystic love of God that God has implanted in man and through which man becomes Godlike. ...The influence of the mystic notions of Platonism, especially of the Symposium, and of the popular mystery cults on Philo’s attempt to present Judaism as the one true mystery is hardly superficial; indeed, Philo is a major source of knowledge of the doctrines of these mystery cults, notably that of rebirth. Perhaps, through his mystic presentation of Judaism, Philo hoped to enable Judaism in the Diaspora to compete with the mystery religions in its proselyting efforts, as well as in its attempts to hold on to its adherents.
The purpose of what Philo called mystic “sober intoxication” was to lead one out of the material into the eternal world. Like Plato, Philo regarded the body as the prison house of the soul, and in his dualism of body and soul, as in his description of the flight from the self, the contrast between God and the world, and the yearning for a direct experience of God, he anticipated much of Gnosticism, a dualistic religion that became important in the 2nd century CE. But unlike all the Greek philosophers, with the exception of the Epicureans, who believed in limited freedom of will, Philo held that man is completely free to act against all the laws of his own nature.
In his ethical theory Philo described two virtues, under the heading of justice, that are otherwise unknown in Greek philosophic literature—religious faith and humanity. Again, for him repentance was a virtue, whereas for other Greek philosophers it was a weakness. Perfect happiness comes, however, not through men’s own efforts to achieve virtue but only through the grace of God.
In his political theory Philo often said that the best form of government is democracy, but for him democracy was far from mob rule, which he denounced as the worst of polities, perhaps because he saw the Alexandrian mob in action. For Philo democracy meant not a particular form of government but due order under any form of government in which all men are equal before the law. From this point of view, the Mosaic constitution, which embodies the best elements of all forms of government, is the ideal. Indeed, the ultimate goal of history is that the whole world be a single state under a democratic constitution.

For further commentary on John 14:6, see pp 416-417 in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy in Resources at

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