God and the Word (Part 1)

“All things come into being according to the Logos.”

“The Logos is one only. It is unwilling and willing to be called by the name of Zeus.”

(Heraclitus, 600 B.C.)

“In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the God was the Logos.”

(Saint John, 90 A.D.)

Twenty-five centuries ago a small group of thinkers called sophists attempted to use a certain kind of intuitive thinking to re-define the way they talked about the world. Their intellectual heirs and disciples — the scientists and philosophers — continue to produced the most sophisticated views of the world.  Heraclitus’ is — arguably — the most influential of these these post-pagan thinkers.  In many ways, all of western civilization– both Christian and atheist — are deeply Heraclitian in the way they explain the world.

Heraclitus saw a unity of all of the patterns of energy that make up the comos.  This unity he termed the Logos, i.e. the Word. The term Logos pointed to the unseen order that shapes the energy (fire) that is the substance of all things. He correctly proclaimed proclaimed that the Logos — not the gods —was the reason for all things.

Heraclitus’ view of the Logos mirrors how science sees the truth today. His philosophy, like science that evolved from it, is a form of scientific monotheism that both encompasses the pagan ways of viewing god and transcends them. He saw that the gods of the pantheon, like nations, are the products of human war and storytelling rather than either the existence or divinity of their personality.  The gods were all accidents that happened according to the laws of the way things work, i.e. the nomos.

Heraclitus believed it was necessary to submit to the government’s law as a matter of intellectual conscience. The law of the Logos was that we must always act according to the logic common to all — the light that illuminates every person — rather than our own private logic. Heraclitus counseled everyone to be subject to the governing authorities, because — ultimately– there was no authority except that which the Logos had established.  Anybody who rebelled against the legal authority was rebelling against what the Logos had instituted and rightfully suffered the terror of the punishments of the government.  This was also — in essence at least — the political faith of Pharisees like Paul and the Christian theologians that followed. 

Heraclitus’ logic also told him that some things weren’t true, regardless of what the prophets, oracles, and sophist lawyers said, and some things we should do, regardless of what the prophets, oracles, and lawyers said. This is still the faith of America and American law.

The sophistry of Heraclitus was so influential that Christianity adopted it nearly whole cloth merely because the religion was forged in the Greek language. 150 years after Jesus, church father Justin Martyr acknowledged that Christianity was part and parcel with the reasonable monotheism of the Logos.  He wrote in First Apology, chapter 26:

“We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Logos of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived according to the logos are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them. . .”

Augustine had a similar opinion. He wrote in his Retractions: 

For what is now called the Christian religion existed even among the Ancients and was not lacking from the beginning of the human race until “Christ came in the flesh” (cf. 1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7). From that time, true religion which already existed, began to be called Christian.

Heraclitus, like the Christian theologians that followed him, saw that men naturally lack experience with the Logos, they were born in the darkness and often cannot see the light of the Logos even when it was obviously in front of them. Most were too busy playing the complicated games that the gods made them play rather than to sit quietly and logically contemplate the way things were. They could not hear or see the Logos because they were preoccupied with the various brands of nomos that each of the gods stood for.  In a more familiar vernacular: he recognized that men cannot hear the Word because they have become obsessed with the Law.

Heraclitus himself did not seem to have access to Christian joy. After recognizing that the gods did not rule, he refused to play any of their games, and — according to legend — after writing his philosophy, he spent the rest of his days in isolation in the wilderness, weeping for the world, and consuming only herbs and grass.  Twenty-five centuries later, his is the faith of the sophisticated classes who have abandoned ancient faiths and claim to live by the same logic that guided Heraclitus. This is still the faith of the upper-middle-class, who also seems to share Heraclitus’ path to disaffected despair, and organic food.

John’s first verse reads like a conscious answer to Heraclitus, as an answer to the dense philosophical riddles that made the Greek thinker famous.  It immediately tells the reader that the Gospel does not ignore the most profound thinking that came before it. It begins the story where Heraclitus left off by making the astounding claim that there was a man that revealed the Word itself.

— More later. . .

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16 thoughts on “God and the Word (Part 1)

  1. First, a side note: the demeaning word “sophistry” comes from the group of people you quote and the very word today infers something akin to ignorance and attempts to deceive.

    As to Heraclitus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states this about him:

    “A Greek philosopher of Ephesus (near modern Kuşadası, Turkey) who was active around 500 BCE, Heraclitus propounded a distinctive theory which he expressed in oracular language. He is best known for his doctrines that things are constantly changing (universal flux), that opposites coincide (unity of opposites), and that fire is the basic material of the world.”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/

    This article also goes on to say that the lynchpin of his philosophy is that opposites work together to make our reality.

    According to another site, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, also expresses this sentiment:

    “Opposites are necessary for life, but they are unified in a system of balanced exchanges. The world itself consists of a law-like interchange of elements, symbolized by fire. Thus the world is not to be identified with any particular substance, but rather with an ongoing process governed by a law of change.”

    I’ve found reading through some articles on Heraclitus that one gains wisdom through experience, not just knowing and learning, and since most people do not experience much they do not possess great wisdom.

    Anyway, I am curious about your apparent desire to equate Christianity with philosophical paradigms. Do you see Christianity as merely a philosophy to explain the world around us?

  2. Gundek, — Thanks, I will look into that.

    Slowcowboy, Within LDS thought, the falling away of the traditional church (the “Great Apostasy”) was caused because “the philosophies of men” were “mingled with scripture”. This idea of keeping philosophy away from scripture has been the basis of the LDS rejection of systematic theology and orthodoxy since Joseph Smith. The unstated thesis of the OP is that the Gospel of John directly mingles the philosophies of men with scripture in the opening verse. . . I think the interpretation of John 1:1 shows the most important differences between Mormonism and “New Testament” Christianity.

  3. Jared, I look forward to your coming essays on this topic, as it seems you have more to write.

    I understand the philosophies of men theory of Mormonism as applied to traditional Christianity. However, if we are to accept the possibility that the philosophies of men have infiltrated Christianity within John 1:1, it begs the question of John’s role in expressing a philosophy of men, meaning possibly an apostasy hit within decades of Christ’s death.

    But stepping back a bit, you generally focus on philosophy, even beyond this particular essay, and I am curious as to whether or not you see Christianity as merely a philosophy akin to any number of philosophies out there.

  4. “The unstated thesis of the OP is that the Gospel of John directly mingles the philosophies of men with scripture in the opening verse.”

    Exactly so. I have heard Mormons say that God waited until the 1800s to restore the Gospel because he knew the conditions (namely religious freedom) would be right in the U.S. from that time until now. But by that logic, it seems reasonable to conclude that God chose the time and place where Jesus was born, at least partly because he foresaw that the Greek philosophical system would serve the Gospel well, by making it satisfying to the head as well as the heart.

  5. Slowcowboy,

    I think Christianity is necessarily completely independent of philosophy. I think John was pointing out how Christianity fits with dominant philosophical views of the world.

    Agellius,

    I think its is an open question what philosophy God was placing a seal of approval on. I don’t think we can affirm a philosophy as being part of the Gospel simply because it is compatible with Christianity, however, if you don’t approach the message in the New Testament (drafted by Greek speakers) from the point of view of Greek philosophy, you may miss key parts of the message. (Which is the case with the LDS.)

  6. Why do LDS utilize on the philosophy-of-men-line-of-attack? When did the philosophies of men infiltrate the church according to LDS?

  7. Jared:

    I didn’t say that God put his seal of approval on a philosophy, or made it a part of the Gospel, but only that Greek-derived philosophy has been used in the service of the Gospel, for explaining things in a way that people can understand. Similarly, Mormons sometimes use modern science in the service of the Mormon Gospel, as, for example, when they say that God is the only God in and of our universe, but that our universe may be merely one universe of a multiverse.

  8. My apologies if it is out of joint, It’s a vanity piece, for sure. 😉 What are some of the answers you have come up with.

  9. Here’s my take…

    First off…your quote from Justin Martyr is Chap. XLVI – not XXVI.

    Your statement; A) The sophistry of Heraclitus was so influential that Christianity adopted it nearly whole cloth merely because the religion was forged in the Greek language. B) 150 years after Jesus, church father Justin Martyr acknowledged that Christianity was part and parcel with the reasonable monotheism of the Logos. There are two statements here that are problematic. Starting with B) This statement actually flies in the face of what Justin Martyr is actually saying throughout his whole series of apologies and misses his entire premise.

    Justin Martyr is doing exactly the opposite of what you claim. He is not “acknowledging” Christianity as “part and parcel” to any philosophy….but saying that those philosophies…where they were able to touch on any truth…were “part and parcel” to the Truth. They were, in his words…”Spermatakoi logoi” = seeds of Truth. But it is not the philosophy that is true…it is the Truth – Christ and His Church – which is true, and the philosophy that may have seen partial truth through a lie, or had the fullness of the truth corrupted by demons.

    But Justin does not attach any Christian thoughts to philosophical thoughts as such…except as for comparison and familiar subject matter to his readers. Indeed, Justin goes to great lengths to show that all philosophies and religions with the “seeds of Truth” are off mark because demons corrupt the minds and doctrines of philosophers just enough to imitate the truth. This is particularly evident from Chapters XX through XXIII….

    “And that this may now become evident to you -(firstly) that whatever we assert (here he speaks of contemporary philosophy and religion – Perseus, Aesculapious and Mercury) in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed; that we claim to be acknowledged, not because we say the same things as these writers said, but because we say true things…”

    Touching on part A of your statement; that Christianity “adopted Heraclitus’s” sophistry “nearly whole cloth” is not supportable by anyone familiar with early Church history or Patristic sources. Similarity in language is not the adoption of a philosophy. Adoption of language with different concepts attached to the language is what occurred. The Logos of Heraclitus is not the Logos of the Gospel. The language may be the same…but Christianity did not adopt the concepts, but redefined them as it did for centuries afterwards. Indeed, Christianity consistently undercut Greek philosophy by taking terms from Plato and completely redefining them. Homousious, ousia, hypostasis, were all words used in Greek philosophy – which Christianity took and completely overturned their definition.

    The same happened with the term Logos. The faith took a word as a touchstone for dialogue, baptized it with Christian theology, and made the word its own.

    “Whatever all men have uttered aright is the property of us Christians. For we worship and love next to God the Logos, which is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since it was even for us that he became man, that he might be a partaker of our sufferings and bring us healing. For all writers through the implanted seed of the Logos which was engrafted in them, were able to see the truth darkly, for the seed an imitation of a thing which is given according to the capacity of him who receives it is one thing, and quite a different on is the thing itself of which the communication and the imitation are received according to the grace from God.”

    I think you have good things to say in the rest of your article; but it seems to me that these statements (at least as I read them) are not consistent with what your concluding paragraph says. But its hard to tell…

    A final thought to which most are not aware. The philosophies of the Greeks was HIGHLY influenced by Judaism. Many of the Greek ideas were manifestations of the Hebrew Temple cult with their own flourishing and names; to wit;

    “Evidence for temple mysticism in later, and especially in Christian texts, has often been identified as Platonism or Neoplatonism. Ancient writers, however, knew that Plato had taken some of his ideas from Hebrew sources, and in particular Pythagoras had learned much from (visiting) the Jerusalem temple. Hermippus of Smyrna, A Greek writing in the mid-third century BCE, said that Pythagoras had adopted the teachings of the Jews. Josephus emphasized this in his debate with Apion…”

    The idea of the “Logos” was not purely a Greek concept…indeed the Hebrews had a rich traditions of personification of Wisdom, the “Memra” (i.e. logos) that predated the logos traditions of the Greeks. The “Memra” (Word) of the Lord has been shown to have been quite instrumental in later Greek philosophies of the Logos.

    For more on the Memra / Logos interrelation see http://nes.berkeley.edu/Web_Boyarin/BoyarinArticles/108%20Gospel%20of%20the%20Memra%20(2001).pdf

    http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10618-memra

    The connection between the Traditions of the Memra and the Logos would not have been lost on John or any of the others early Christians….though they are largely lost on modernity rank and file. Rabbinic Judaism’s reductionist form of the Hebrew religion stood in sharp contrast to the Traditions maintained in Orthodox Christianity from the First Temple period. Even the Rabbinic Targums and Mishnahs reflect this truth.

    God Bless.

  10. Thanks for your thoughts AJ,

    The reason I am pretty adamant that the Gospel of John adopts a concept of God that resembles Heraclitus concept of the Logos is that Mormons reject this concept. I think the parallels between Heraclitus and the Gospel of John are striking regardless how they are explained. The Greek concept of the Logos was an important method of teaching early Christians about what God was. They don’t see God the Father as “ineffable” or “unbegotten”. This leads to errors that prevent many from understanding Christianity.

    I think it is also important for so-called atheists to recognize that they implicitly accept God in the form of the Logos that Heraclitus spoke of — if only because they swear by the Greek philosophy of science pioneered by the sophists.

    A certain ignorance of the Word is common to both Mormons and atheists. Atheists are those that implicitly accept the Word but refuse to fear it as God. Mormons refert to atheism when they leave Mormonism because they never were taught to fear the Word, or have any understanding of what is meant by the term.

    My hope is that if Mormons opened their minds to the New Testament idea of God (which, as you say, was present in the Old Testament as well), they will open their eyes to New Testament Christianity.

  11. I like the video also – worth watching for those who reject any use of the “philosophies of men” to describe God.

  12. Sounds interesting, but what video? Neither of AJ’s links led to a video that I could see (one of them gives me a 404 error).

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