Logos and Rhema – Another example of word study in the Bible
In a previous post, I posted a word study on “lifted up” or “hypsoo.” I do realise that doing word studies can clarify some of the terminologies we use in church. Another example would be the use of logos and rhema. Conventional traditions teach us that logos is the written word and rhema is the spoken word. When I first received Christ, I learned that the Scripture I read in my devotion is the logos. And if any word struck me, it is the rhema. However, is that really the case? With this, we can embark on another word study on logos and rhema to find out more.
Occurrences of Logos and Rhema in the New Testament
Using Logos Bible Software, we know that the Greek word “logos” occurs in the New Testament a total of 330 times in 318 verses. It is impractical for the purpose of this post to list all the occurrences. Therefore, we will do a sampling of the verses. We can again turn back to John and see what we can glean from how John used the word. To add a little diversity, we will look at the Pauline usage of the word in Ephesians.
This will be the same approach for “rhema” as well. The word occurs 68 times in 65 verses. We will sample the verses in gospel of John and Ephesians to ascertain the biblical usage.
Occurrences of Logos and Rhema in Gospel of John
Below is a table on the occurrences of logos and rhema in the gospel of John.
|In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
|The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
|After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
|For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.
|Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.
|Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”
|And because of his words many more became believers.
|“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
|“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
|nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.
|But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?
|On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
|The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
|Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life
|What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”
|On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
|He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
|To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.
|I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word
|Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say
|Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
|Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.
|At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.
|Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word.
|The Jews who heard these words were again divided.
|But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?
|If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside
|This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
|“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
|There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.
|First “words” = Rhema
Second “words” = Logos
|Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
|Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
|You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
|If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
|Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
|But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason
|I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word
|For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
|I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world
|Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth
|“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message
|This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.
|This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die
|When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid
|When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha)
|Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
Occurrences of Logos and Rhema in Ephesians
Below is a table on the occurrences of logos and rhema in the gospel of John.
|And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit
|Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
|Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
|to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word
|Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
|Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel
Observations from the Word Study
Now that we have our data, we can make some observations about logos and rhema in the New Testament. Firstly, when we look at how the two NT authors used the word “logos,” they did use it in the context of spoken words. In John 7:40 and 8:51, for example, “logos” translates to “words” which Jesus spoke in those contexts. In fact, almost all the cases translate the word this way. However, there is the notable exception of John description of Jesus as the Logos.
Similarly, Paul did use “logos” to mean the same thing as well. Ephesians 4:29, 5:6 and 6:19 all translate “logos” to mean spoken words.
Secondly, we notice that in Ephesians, Paul used “rhema” in a peculiar way compared to John. In Ephesians, Paul used “rhema” as written word. In the two verses, the context suggests that Paul was referring to the Hebrew Scripture rather than words that God “speaks” to us. This is contrary to John’s usage of the word, where he always meant it to be words which Jesus spoke and taught.
Thirdly, when we bring the first two observations together, then we find that logos and rhema are almost always interchangeable. The classic usage is John 12:48. You have Jesus saying that there is a judge for the one who rejects his “words.” This is the Greek word “rhema.” But in the same breath, he emphasized that these are the very “words” he has spoken. This is the Greek word “logos.” And so we see that there is no differentiation between logos and rhema in these instances.
A simple conclusion
We will need to rethink how we quote logos and rhema. A simple sampling of the New Testament shows that the Scripture does not differentiate between them. Practically speaking, this means that it should not be the case when we deal with the word. When we read the Bible, we ought to take each word we read seriously as God’s spoken word. No doubt that there will be times when certain verses struck out to us but it may well be the Holy Spirit moving in our hearts and not because there is something special about the verse.
This also means to be careful about our attitude towards ‘rhema words of wisdom/knowledge.’ I have seen Christians who attend prophetic prayer meetings chasing after such words. Some of them use this as a short cut to God. Some want a personal touch from God. But as one of my lecturers said, sometimes the personal touch from God comes from our reflections and meditation of the Scripture. And this lecturer is a Pentecostal, so he is no stranger to the prophetic and charismatic.
I hope that this simple study opens up new understanding to how we see the Scripture. At the heart of it, it has to be a desire to take the Scripture more seriously than we think. Let me know in the comments below if you have any thoughts on logos and rhema. I will love to hear from you.