The Meaning of "Word"

Many Greek words are translated somewhat inaccurately in most Biblical translations. This problem starts with the Greek word translated as "word" in the Gospels. Since this site is about Christ's "words," we should start there. The most common Greek term translated as "word" is logos, which means "computation", "relation", "explanation", "law", "rule of conduct", "continuous statement", and so on. The actual Greek word for "word" is lexis, not logos. Christ never uses the Greek word, lexis, in the NT. One of the goals of this site is to translate the Greek as people of Christ's time would have heard it.

The Words That Don't Mean "Word"

Logos is the most common word translated as "word" in the Gospel, and, as we have said, it doesn't mean "word," except perhaps in a poetic sense. The translation of logos as "word" is common in all Biblical translations and Christian writings, but not the translation of other Greek works. The people in Christ's era would not have heard logos as meaning lexis. The word that comes closest to capturing all the main of logos in English is "explanation," but today, we probably use the term, "idea" or "concept" to express this concept. Logos is the source of our word "logic." It is also the root word for all the English words that end in "-ology," which we use to mean "the study of" something.

However, logos is not the only word in the Bible translated as "word." The first time that the English "word" is put it into Christ words is in Mat 4:4 (click on the link to see the article on the Greek of this verse), where a different Greek word is used. The English translation of the verse is, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." Here the "word" is from rhema, which means "that which is spoken", "saying", "subject of speech", and so on. The English word "remarks" is from the same base and captures the main sense of rhema idea well. This Greek word, however, does come close to the idea of "words" in English that logos, because it refers specifically to what is spoken.

However, there is still a problem. Looking a little more deeply a Mat 4:4, the quote is from the old testament, Deu 8:3, where the Hebrew word translated into rhema in the Septuagint, the Greek OT, is mowtsa'. Mowtsa' doesn't mean "word" either. It may be even further from "word." This Hebrew word means a "going forth", "rising (of the sun)", "going forth of a command", "that which goes forth," and a "place of going forth." The "going forth of a command" comes closest to the idea of "word," especially in the context of a "mouth." However, what goes forth from God's "mouth" might also be described, at least by Christ, as "breath," which is the Greek word for "spirit" (see this article on the meaning of "spirit").

So What Did Christ Mean?

While our English word "remarks" comes very close to the same meaning as rhema, the problem is logos, which is used some much more frequently. The English word most directly descended from it, "logic," doesn't really work. That word has become too closely associated with reasoning, especially formal reasoning.

The common meaning of logos in Greek as "explanation," works well in most contexts in which Christ uses it. However, in a few verses, specifically Mat 18:23 and Mat 25:19, Christ clearly uses it in the sense of more in the sense of "accounting" since the context is numerical amounts, but "explanation" still works. Its meaning as "discussion," doesn't work, because most of what Christ uses "word" to refer to is not a "discussion" in the sense that there are two sides. If you look at the quotes with "word" in them, on the right side of you will see that Christ used the word logos in a way that clearly meant what he was explaining, or, more precisely, what he was given by the Father to explain, not general topics of this discussion.

We also have to deal with the fact that logos is used in both in the singular, explanation, and plural, explanations. In the singular, Christ seems to use it to refer generally to all he has said, that is, "the explanation" that he has offered. The only problem with "explanation" is that it is a long, somewhat cumbersome word. The word "word" is pithier.

However, in English, we have a couple of other options that are not typically used in NT translation. The word "teaching" and especially the word, "lessons," both work well. Both capture the basic idea of the logos as an "explanation," that is, the logic of something. The word "lessons" seems to fit particularly well in the modern vernacular because it is used more generally that "teachings." While teachings come from a teacher, lessons come from life, mistakes, and God as well as a teacher. Christ uses logos in all of these ways.

However, the words "lessons" and "teachings" are very education oriented, at least as we use them today. In Christ's time, people didn't go to school for the first part of their life, as we do now. Life's lessons were learned by living and listening to people and, for the Jews, discussing the scripture. Today, we more commonly use the terms "ideas" and "concepts" to refer to logical (logos) explanations for things. However, since "ideas" also has the sense of new inventions in English, perhaps our words of "concept" and "concepts" comes the closest to the concept Christ was trying to express when he used the term logos. So we could call this site "Christ's Concepts" except that this site really is about "words" in the sense of lexis, not just logos.