The Incarnation and the Battle for Knowledge

One thought on “The Incarnation and the Battle for Knowledge”

  1. I was once told that until I learned to read the Bible in its original languages, I will never have truly read it. That seemed a rather high bar to set, and yet having taken that advice, I now notice all kinds of English language mistakes folks make. One of the most common is the way you are equivocating the English word “word” in a way that the actual text of the Bible does not.

    “Λόγος” is a great example of how meaning gets lost in translation. It can be translated as “word,” but Λόγος has an antonym that’s central to its meaning, but “word” does not. The opposite of λόγος is μύθος, a concept that gets drilled into the head of any student of the Presocratics. This Greek term μύθος can also be translated as “Word” in the same way if John 1:1 had instead said “In the beginning was Mythos and Mythos was made flesh.” But it would only mean “word” in the sense that it’s the opposite kind of word as Logos.

    Given the rather clear contemporaneous meaning of the capital lettered “Λόγος” two thousand years ago in the Koine dialect of the Hellenistic world, it’s uncertain why John Wycliffe chose to translate it as “Word” prompting Tyndale and the KJV to follow suit and thus permanently obscuring its more obvious meaning in the English speaking world today. Actually Wycliffe originally followed it with a parenthetical aside: “In the beginning was the word, [that is, God’s Son,].”

    If Λόγος were to be translated as something in reference to human language, then a more precise choice would have been “Prose” as distinct from its antonym “Verse.” But the silliness of such a translation should then remind us of why the best translation of this Greek term, which means “a rational account,” is simply “God.”

    Logos was a very common philosophical euphemism for a monotheistic conception of deity as distinct from the polytheistic norm of the time. There are several candidates for possible influence on the anonymous author of the Johannes Gospel. Zeno was one of the first to use Λόγος this way, making it a mainstay of Stoicism, but a more contemporaneous candidate would be Philo of Alexandria who in the 1st Century was the first Jewish writer to do so.

    There is of course an appropriate Koine Greek word for “word” that is actually used by biblical authors in the way you are trying to use it above: “ῥήματος” (see Romans 10:17), but of course that’s not the root word for “Logic” and bears no linguistic connotation of rationality. This is a non-trivial matter, because it’s a mistake to refer to the Bible as the “Λόγος of God” when it also contains so much μύθος.

    The presence of mere “stories” in the Bible that lack historical truth-value was something accepted by Church fathers. However it’s become a touchy subject for many Evangelicals today. Up above you possibly made reference to one of them when you mentioned the account of the flight to Egypt in Matthew chapter 2. The very different account in Luke chapter 2 contradicts Matthew’s. It’s logically possible that both of them are historically false. It’s also logically possible that one of them is historically true. But it’s not logically possible that both Matthew and Luke’s accounts are both true. At best one account could be described as λόγος, making the other mere μύθος.

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