Most have us have heard the figure of speech, “chasing a rabbit trail,” in regard to public speaking or conversation. Usually, it is a negative thing, as the speaker veers from his or her train of thought and winds up somewhere completely unexpected in the course of the discussion—sometimes with no way of getting back to where it all started in the first place! It can also be a bad thing when you are studying. Yet, sometimes, “chasing a rabbit trail” can lead to a wonderful and unexpected epiphany, such as what I learned earlier this week.
A book in which I have been doing research for a study guide I hope to publish was talking about the Greek words, logos and rhema. When I looked these up in my Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary, it seemed they were almost synonymous in their meaning. The definition for logos in my e-Sword version was essentially as follows:
The definition of rhema, on the other hand, was:
According to the author of the book I was reading, it sounded like both were essentially talking about the same thing—the spoken word. “So, what’s the difference between logos and rhema?” I wondered aloud.
Greek is generally a very precise language. Why would the Greeks have two words that mean essentially the same thing? And why would the writers of the New Testament use logos 330 times and rhema only 70? There had to be some subtle nuances about these two words that I was missing with my limited resources in my electronic Bible program. Therefore, I decided to Google my question and see what the Internet could tell me. Wikipedia came to my rescue.
In its article about rhema [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhema], the online encyclopedia quoted The Handbook of Linguistics, by Mark Aronoff & Janie Rees-Miller, defining the word as simply an “utterance” or “thing said.” Regarding logos [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logos], Wikipedia cited Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott’s An Intermediate Greek–English Lexicon, which pointed out that this word came from a different root which meant, “ground,” “plea,” “opinion,” “expectation,” “word,” “speech,” “account,” “reason,” “proportion,” or “discourse.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, logos was eventually used by Greek philosopher Heraclitus to denote a “principle of order and knowledge.” It was ultimately understood as the “logic behind an argument,” as Wiki notes from an article by S. Butler, entitled, “The Appeals: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.”
The rhema article went on to discuss how the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, differentiated the two words. They considered rhema to be the equivalent of an action or verb; it was a component of an argument. Logos, on the other hand is likened to a sentence. It is a complete thought—the proposition of an argument.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines logos as “‘the expression of thought,’ not the mere name of an object, …as embodying a conception or idea.” Rhema it defines as “that which is spoken, what is uttered in speech or writing.”
So, as I understand these resources, rhema was used to refer to what a person says; while logos encompasses not only what is said, but the reasoning, logic and meaning behind it. That’s why John chose Logos as a name for Jesus Christ.
Jesus was not just the flesh-and-blood representation of what God had said. He was the embodiment of everything that was behind God’s words. Unlike other prophets before Him, Jesus didn’t just repeat what God had said, He expounded on it. Like no one else before or since, Jesus personally knew the heart of God, having come from Him; therefore, He was able to authoritatively inform us about the heart of His message (John 1:18). Jesus wasn’t the rhema—the spoken word of God; He was the logos—the reason behind God’s words.
In the Old Testament, YHWH introduced the topics of sin, atonement and salvation. In Jesus Christ, He made His closing arguments: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV). Jesus is the proposition from the greatest mind that ever existed—the God who wants all men to be saved through faith in Him (2 Peter 3:9).
So, if you are looking for the big idea from Scripture, look no further than the Logos, Jesus Christ. In Him are found all the love, truth, wisdom, hope, life and whatever else the human heart most longs for and needs. His Gospel is presented from Genesis 3:15 through Revelation 22:16. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End of every argument our Creator would pose to His creation. He is the reason for everything God spoke and dictated for His love letters to you and me!