Wednesday, May 23, 2012

“Thus Saith the Lord”: What is the difference between “Logos” and “Rhema”?


  As believers in Christ, we are blessed to have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and grow us, as well as being able to have God speak to us directly through his word – both in our personal reading as well as having it taught by others.

   What is commonly taught in many churches is that God’s Word takes two forms: Logos λόγος and Rhema ῥῆμα. One website describes these two greek words as:

   God's word in general, or logos (eternal written word applicable to all people, at all places at all times) and God's specific word, or rhema (a specific insight from scripture that is applicable to a specific person, at a particular place at a particular time). 
   Even when God gives you an insight (a rhema) throughout the day, that undoubtedly came as a result of your prior meditation and reading of the scripture (that is, the logos).  Remember, a true rhema never conflicts nor replaces the objective logos of the scriptures.  When Jesus was speaking for to the disciples in Luke 24, He was giving them the Logos or general word of the law and prophets of things concerning Himself.  By God's grace their eyes were opened, they heard what Jesus was saying and they were given a specific word (a rhema) that the one speaking to them was Christ.  They saw that those words had immediate application to them. 

But how does the Bible itself use these two words, and what can we learn from it?
   This article will hopefully serve as a survey of these two words, and hopefully shed light upon the nature of divine revelation.

Tools Used in this Study

- Strong’s Concordance and Lexicon
- Vine’s Expository Dictionary
- Logos Bible Software
- English Standard Version


 Strong’s Concordance lists 331 occurrences of Logos λόγος (G3056) across 316 New Testament verses, with 70 occurences of Rhema ῥῆμα (G4487) across 67 verses respectively. In the interests of both time as well as posting space, I have chosen not to post every single occurance of each word. For those who are curious,

Logos λόγος

Rhema ῥῆμα

Nonetheless, I thought I would post relevant passages that I felt most aptly convey the proper meaning of Logos λόγος and Rhema ῥῆμα:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word (Logos λόγος), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my word (Logos λόγος). And the word (Logos λόγος) that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
John 14:23–24

Jesus is not referring to the written scriptures in his use of Logos λόγος, but rather to the things he speaks directly to the discipes. Shouldn’t he have used Rhema ῥῆμα instead of Logos λόγος?

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance (Logos λόγος) of wisdom, and to another the utterance (Logos λόγος) of knowledge according to the same Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:8

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words (Logos λόγος) with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words (Logos λόγος) in a tongue.
1 Corinthians 14:18–19

It has been said so many times by popular preachers that the “Word of Wisdom”, the “Word of Knowledge”, Tongues and Words of Prophecy are to be seen as the Rhema ῥῆμα of God to His people, yet here within Paul’s discourse on Spiritual Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, it is clear that they are actually Logos λόγος !

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word (Rhema ῥῆμα ) of Christ.
Romans 10:14-17

Is the Rhema ῥῆμα refering to spoken words? No, here it has nothing to do with the word being a spoken word or a written word. The word here is the gospel of Christ being preached.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for     
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
       The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25    but the word (Rhema ῥῆμα )  of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
1 Peter 1:22-25

If Rhema ῥῆμα  is “
a specific insight from scripture that is applicable to a specific person, at a particular place at a particular time”, why does 1 Peter 1:25 say that it will last forever?
   Also note instances within scripture where Logos λόγος and Rhema ῥῆμα do appear side by side within a single verse:

36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account (Rhema ῥῆμα) for every careless word (Logos λόγος) they speak, 37 for by your words (Logos λόγος) you will be justified, and by your words (Logos λόγος) you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:36–37

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still saying these things (Rhema ῥῆμα), the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word (Logos λόγος). 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
Acts 10:34–45

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words (Rhema ῥῆμα) made the hearers beg that no further messages (Logos λόγος) be spoken to them.
Hebrews 12:18–19


It would seem that the common definition of Logos λόγος and Rhema ῥῆμα:

God's word in general, or logos (eternal written word applicable to all people, at all places at all times) and God's specific word, or rhema (a specific insight from scripture that is applicable to a specific person, at a particular place at a particular time)

is simply not valid given how these words are actually within the New testament itself. The above listings of Matthew 12:36-37, Acts 10:34-45 and Hebrews 12:18-19 demonstrate what is glaringly obvious with regards to the words Logos λόγος and Rhema ῥῆμα: The Bible itself uses them not to denote separate entities, but rather  interchangeable synonyms.

So where exactly did this notion of Logos as the eternal written word of God with Rhema as the subjective spoken word that speaks to the believer personally arise?

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2  He was in the beginning with God. 3  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
John 1:1-9

The greek word for “Word” that John uses in John 1 is of course logos, however John’s use as well as the actual meaning of the word is more than just mere verbatim. Within the context of greek thinking, logos is the “first cause”, it is the originating point from which all existence – logic, reality, knowledge, existence. All manner of creation comes from the logos.

   John’s use of logos has three purposes:
1. He explains the creation account in a manner that the gentile reader versed in the greek worldview will understand
2. He presents the God of the Christians as being vastly superior to the God of the greeks and Romans in the sense that while the latter were merely supernatural beings vastly superior to humans, the Christian God is the actual creator of the cosmos.
3. Creates a clear basis for the gospel being logical in nature and presupposition i.e., “In the beginning was logic, and logic was with God, for God is logic. And logic became flesh.”

   With this is mind, one must acknowledge logos/Logic/Revelation to be an essential attribute of God. logos/Logic/Revelation could not have come before God, as that would mean God would be subject to a Law higher than himself. At the same, logos/Logic/Revelation could not have existed after God as a created entity, because if such were the case, it would be impossible for God and man to communicate in such a way that anything that God spoke would only be confined to the analogous (e.g., if the logos-less God were to say to anyone “I love You”, he would have to create the revelation rather than having it spring forth from his own mouth). Any concept of God that is not qualified by an absolute, objective revelation can only be expected to conclude in agnosticism – an essential belief in the possibility of a God, yet an open lack of belief in specific personal attributes and character.

   It is also wrong to suggest that certain “truths” are stronger than others (e.g., the seeming contrast between God’s justice vs God’s mercy). logos/Logic/Revelation, being an attribute of God, must therefore be singular, not plural, therefore there can only be one “truth.” If logos/Logic/Revelation was either progressive or transitional, this would mean that the nature and character of God is subject to change. If such is the case, “God” ceases to be God as God must be immutable in nature and form.

   Using the logos/Logic/Revelation of God as the foundation for the worldview he is to present in his account of the gospel, John throws down the gauntlet at any other means by which man may wish to seek and comprehend knowledge.

   While this may be true of John 1 with regards to the Logos, obviously not every occurrence of it in the New Testament carries with it the deep theological weight that John presents. Most of the time, it is simply referring to simple vaerbatim. How can this be? Different words have different meaning. The vocabulary of Biblical Greek is no exception.

   The modern concept of Logos/Rhema can be traced back to the teachings of Charles Farah (1926-2001), a Professor of Theology and History at Oral Roberts University:

“The Logos tends to be universal, while the Rhema is often used as a particular; the Logos is eternal, while the Rhema is often contemporary. It is a word a man takes action on; a personal word he hears “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart…” Romans 10:8. Here the word Rhema is used, and I believe, though not all scholars would agree, that Paul is saying this: Because the word is in your heart, it is necessary to use the word Rhema rather than the Logos, because God’s word has become a personal word to you.”

As we saw earlier, Farah’s definition of Logos and Rhema is not true to the biblical texts. Additionally, there is a rather dangerous implication of his view of Scripture: Unless the Rhema, the spoken word speaks to you personally, the Logos, the written word, has no power, authority or effect.
   Compare this with the views of Karl Barth (1886-1968), considered by many to be the father of 20th Century neo-orthodoxy:

“The Bible is the concrete means by which the Church recollects God’s past revelation, is called to expectation of His future revelation, and is thus summoned and guided to proclamation and empowered for it. The Bible, then, is not in itself and as such God’s past revelation, just as Church proclamation is not in itself and as such the expected future revelation. The Bible, speaking to us and heard by us as God’s Word, bears witness to past revelation. Proclamation, speaking to us and heard by us as God’s Word, promises future revelation. The Bible is God’s Word as it really promises revelation. The promise in proclamation, however, rests on the attestation in the Bible.”
- "Church Dogmatics", Volume 1 (emphasis added)

What Barth is essentially saying that the Holy Bible from Genesis through to Revelation is not God’s inspired revelation in of itself, but rather, it becomes God’s Word via empowered proclamation. It is no so much an outright denial of the inspiration of scripture as is the case with liberalism, but rather a challenge to the basis of it’s authority and power.
   Farah, like Barth, claims that the Bible on it’s own is powerless apart from “encounter”, “Rhema” or anything else that personalizes the Scripture via it being read or spoken. That being said, if one takes this idea out to it’s logical outcome, who or what is the true agent behind Divine Inspiration?
   We are.
   Contrast this with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:18

“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

When it comes to the subject of divine inspiration, Jesus clearly put the emphasis on Content rather than an existential Response, or to use the more specific wording from the King James Version – one jot or one tittle”.

Conclusion: A Call for proper Hermeneutics

Where did this confusion all start? It began with a faulty interpretation of the Scriptures, which in turn led to the inception of an erroneous view of the Bible overall.

So how can this be avoided? How does one go about with regards to interpreting the Bible properly (hermeneutics)?
I’d like to put forward four simple steps:

Step 1: Identify the Scripture
What is the text that you’re studying?

Step 2: Make Observations
1. What is the historical context? – Who wrote the text? Where did they write it? When was it written? What is going on in the word around them?

2. What is the genre? Is it a narrative? A poem? Prophecy? Teaching?

3. Who’s involved? Who are the major characters within the text?

4. How is God described? What are the theological themes that describe the nature of God?

5. Old Testament or New? When reading an Old Testament passage, does the revelation of the New Testament change our understanding?

6. How is the writing arranged? Are there certain words or phrases that are either repeated or emphasized? How does the author’s use of a certain term apply in other passages related to the text we’re studying?

3. Apply the Principles
 Build the Bridge between yourself and the time when the text was written

1. Grasp the text on their turf. What did the text mean to the original audience?

2. Measure the width of the gap to cross. What are the differences (Time, culture, language, covenant) between the biblical audience and us?

3. Cross the Bridge. What are the underlying principles (theological, moral, etc.) that are not limited to time and culture?

4. Bring the text home. How should we as Christians apply the principles in our lives today?

4. Pray
Commit what you have learned before God in prayer, thanking him for what you have learned and asking that he give you the grace to live it out.

Common mistakes to avoid:

1. Inductive vs Deductive.

Inductive: Examining data to make a conclusion and deriving the resulting application (exegesis)
Deductive: Having a pre-conceived application and then picking out the evidences to support it. (eisegesis)

If one approaches a text with an intended application in mind before actually taking the time to observe the Historical-Grammatical contexts to see whether the text will even allow for such an application, they can only be expected to misinterpret and misapply the scriptures.

2. Authorial Intent vs Reader response

Reader Response: “This is what I feel the text is saying to me personally…”
Authorial Intent: What did the author – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – actually intend to convey?

Simply put, if a text doesn’t say it, the text cannot mean it.

3. Don’t overcomplicate the text

In our zeal for spiritual knowledge, it is all-too-easy to fall into the trap of over-spiritualizing a text to make it seem more complicated and profound that what it actually is.

4. Never read a single verse on it’s own!

This is especially true if you’re in a church where teaching is usually done in a topical format as opposed to expository or systematic - When reading a verse, read it in context of it’s parent chapter; read the chapter in context of the book; and read a book in context of the entirety of scripture.

   At this point, some may object: “This is far too complicated! If I try to do these things, I’ll never understand the Bible!”
   Listen here: When you go through the gospel accounts, look at how Jesus handles the scriptures – “Does it not say…” “Is it not written…” “You have heard it said…” – he always presents his teaching of the Scriptures presuming that people know and understanding. Not once will you see Jesus suggesting that his listener’s inability to understand his teaching was because it was too complicated; he always presupposes clarity.
   So to, The
New Testament epistles were not written to theologians, they were not written to church leaders, they were not written to scholars, they were written to congregations, to the church of God at Corinth, to the churches of Galatia, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, and so forth. And Paul assumes in every letter and so does Peter, and so does James, and so does John, so does Jude, that their hearers will understand exactly what they write.

   If you’re a pastoral leader, please receive the following as a word of encouragement out of love: When you teach from the Bible, what does your handling of Scripture say with regards to your convictions concerning your personal view of the Bible?  
   The simple truth is that how we teach the Scriptures sets the pace and example for how those under our care respond to the Bile as well. What is declared from the pulpit will be repeated in the prayer closet and in turn deposited in the Harvest field.
   In 2 Timothy 2:15, pastoral leaders are to

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

It is shameful in the sight of God to be in a position of spiritual authority, yet be ill-equipped in handling and presenting the Word of God. If the handling of scripture on the part of a pastoral leader is done in a way that is haughty, cavalier or even – God forbid – hostile towards the Scriptures, one can only expect those on the receiving end of such teaching to inevitably adopt a negative attitude towards the Bible.
   Says Alistair Begg:

"We wouldn't want a carpenter smashing and crashing around without some obvious indication that he knew what he was doing, and yet in the realm of theology we have people smashing and crashing around with all sorts of tools with no obvious indication that they know what they're trying to do or planning to accomplish."

   If you’re a pastoral leader, ask yourself this: will you teach the Bible exegetically – expounding upon what the text(s) actually says – or will you instead preach a subjective, existential message that will only serve whatever you want to say whether it is genuinely biblical or not? 
   The Apostle Paul said:

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33  I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34  You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Acts 20:26-35

Such resolve should be something we all strive for: knowing the threat of deception, we will seek to present God’s Word in it’s entirety for the sake of the souls of those under our care. Nonetheless ask yourself in sobriety: do you vocally profess to believe in, obey and teach the scriptures, yet shy away from talking things which while given great attention to within the Bible hardly receive adequate “air-time” from your lips?
It is truly a dangerous thing when you hear men who carry the Word of God in their hands, yet the lens that they’ve allowed to be placed over their eyes becomes so thick that they can no longer see clearly what it is actually saying. Not only does it ostracize those within the church who are willing to test everything in light of Scripture, but it also encourages a culture within fellowships where people are told to stay away from the Bible and not believe what it says – even and especially when said church may profess to hold the Bible as it’s highest authority.
   Are you building a community of discipleship, or a culture of censorship?
   Says Matt Chandler:

   You’d better decide very, very early what you believe about the Scriptures, or you will sell out to the idea that success equals godliness. It’s subtle. Like those who are opponents of our faith. They are not going to come out and [openly] attack. You just have to ask questions and never answer them. You’ll start to say, “You don’t have to go there.” You’d better decide early where your devotion lies. 
I also don’t think you’ll wake up one morning and say, “I’m selling out.” It will happen incrementally.

So I urge you: if you are a pastoral leader, regardless of rank, position or status: learn how to properly read and interpret the Bible. Don’t just leave the discipline of hermeneutics to your fellowship’s intellectual elite or as an extra-curricular activity; your duty is to train and equip others in the spiritual disciplines. This may mean practically that you actually have to sit down with your people some day and give lessons regarding how to properly exegete the Bible if they’re not likely to learn it anywhere else.

1 Peter 2:2 says

“Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (NLT)

 The only way you can reach the full abundance of your walk with Christ is through the careful study of His word – nothing more, nothing less.
   The Bible says that God has “magnified Your word above all Your name” (Psalm 138:2). How important it is then, to know the Word of God? Not just owning a Bible and hearing small sound-bites here and there, but understanding what it actually means – for the meaning of Scriture is in actual fact the Scriptures. The message that God wants you to hear lies within the meaning, which requires you to know how it should be rightly understood.