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Logos and Rhema: An Exaltation of Logos, Part 3

by Karl Kemp  
7/12/2012 / Bible Studies

Part 3 continues where Part 2 ended. I always use the NASB, 1995 edition, unless mentioned otherwise.

What do the scholarly works that deal with the meaning of New Testament words have to say on this topic? I looked at the relevant articles in the BAGD "Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament"; the "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament" in 3 volumes (edited by Colin Brown); the "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament" in 10 volumes (edited by G. Kittel; I didn't thoroughly study the lengthy article of some 65 pages, which is in Vol. 4); "A Theological Word Book of the Bible" (by Alan Richardson); the "Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament" in 3 volumes (edited by H. Balz and G. Schneider); "A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament" by George Abbott-Smith; and the "Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament" in 2 volumes (by J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida).

I didn't notice anything in any of these articles that would support the popular (but wrong) views regarding the meaning of logos and rhema that we are discussing in this paper. I'll quote a one sentence paragraph from Vol. 1 of the last reference cited (on page 400) in a brief discussion for logos and rhema: "Any difference of meaning between logos and rhema would be only a matter of stylistic usage."

I noticed that many (or most) articles on the internet that teach popular (but wrong) views regarding logos and rhema appeal to the one and one-half page article under "word" that deals with the meaning of logos and rhema in "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words" by W. E. Vine (first published in 1940). As I mentioned, I probably wouldn't have looked at this reference if many articles on the internet were not using it as the (or, a) primary support for the popular (but wrong) views regarding logos and rhema. I have had this book for more than forty years, but I haven't used it much. For one thing, the BAGD Greek Lexicon is much more highly rated by Bible commentators, etc.

It is very significant for the purposes of this paper that this article by W. E. Vine makes it clear that it is wrong to say that logos is used for the written word and rhema for the spoken word. For one thing, he makes the statement that rhema "denotes that which is spoken, what is uttered in speech OR WRITING [my emphasis]...." And it is very significant that Vine's article refutes the idea that the rhema word is alive, powerful, and effective, etc. but the logos word isn't. I'll quote part of what Vine says under logos: "...the phrase 'the word of the Lord,' i.e., the revealed will of God (very frequent in the O.T.), IS USED OF A DIRECT REVELATION OF CHRIST, 1 Thess. 4:15; [and it is used] of the gospel, Acts 8:25; 13:49; 15:35, 36; 16:32; 19:10; 1 Thess. 1:8; 2 Thess. 3:1 [and many more verses could be listed here]; in this respect IT IS THE MESSAGE FROM THE LORD, DELIVERED WITH HIS AUTHORITY AND MADE EFFECTIVE BY HIS POWER [my emphasis] (compare Acts 10:36)...." Under his very brief (two paragraph) discussion of rhema, Vine points out, for one thing, that rhema "is used of the gospel in Rom. 10:8 (twice); 10:17...'the word of Christ', (i.e., the word which preaches Christ); Rom. 10:18 [plural] ; 1 Peter 1:25 (twice)...."

It is one of Vine's two paragraphs that deal with rhema that has caused the damage, based on what I have read. I'll quote the paragraph: "The significance of rhema (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take 'the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,' Eph. 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture."

It is unfortunate that this short paragraph has been so influential. Anyway, many are reading a whole lot more into this paragraph than what Vine intended, and (apparently) they aren't reading the rest of the article.

In what way is rhema "distinct from logos" according to Vine in this paragraph? First, I want to repeat the very significant point that his article (including this paragraph) does not support the errors I am dealing with in this paper: He does not say that logos is used for the written word and rhema for the spoken word, and he does not say that the rhema word is alive, powerful, effective, personal, etc., but that the logos word isn't. The only thing he says here about a distinction between rhema and logos is that "the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need."

If we only had this one paragraph, we might think Vine was saying that logos always refers "to the whole Bible," but rhema is used for "individual scripture" (like a verse or a passage of several verses). But his article makes it is clear that he is not saying that, and a study of the use of the words in the New Testament will quickly confirm that that statement would be false, and it would be especially false to say that logos always (or, most of the time) refers "to the whole Bible." For one thing, Vine points out in his article the obvious fact that logos is sometimes used in the New Testament for "a saying or statement, (1) by God, e.g., John 15:25; Rom. 9:9, 28...; Gal. 5:14; Heb. 4:12; (2) by Christ, e.g., Matt. 24:35 (plural); John 2:22; 4:41; 14:23 (plural); 15:20. ....'' In John 15:25, for example, the first verse Vine cited here, logos refers to part of a verse from the Old Testament, "But they have done this to fulfill the word [logos] that is written in their Law, 'They hated me without a cause' " [see Psalm 35:19; 69:4]. So too for the next verse he listed, Rom. 9:9, "For this is the word [logos] of promise: 'At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son' " (see Gen. 18:10). I'll also quote John 2:22, which Vine cited here, "So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word [logos] which Jesus had spoken." These verses (along with a large number of other verses) demonstrate that logos is often used of individual scriptures or statements/sayings/words. I'll list some more examples: Matt. 5:37; 8:8; 12:32; 15:12; 19:11, 22; 28:15; Mark 5:36; 7:29; 10:22 (plural); 12:13; Luke 1:29; 7:7, 17; 12:10; 20:20; John 4:37, 39, 50; 6:60; 7:36, 40 (plural); 10:19 (plural); 12:38; 15:20, 25; 18: 9, 32; 19:8, 13 (plural); 21:23; Acts 2:40 (plural); Acts 5:5 (plural), 5:24 (plural); 6:5; 7:29; 11:22; 13:15; 15:27, 32 (plural); 16:36 (plural); 20:38; 22:22; Rom. 9:9; 13:9; 1 Cor. 12:8; 14:9, 19; 15:54; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6; 1 Thess. 4:15; 2 Thess. 2:2; 3:14; 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8; Heb. 7:28 (with 7:21); and 2 Pet. 2:3 (plural).

Apparently all that Vine intended to say about a distinction between logos and rhema (a distinction that he doesn't comment on anywhere else in his article) was that his interpretation of Eph. 6:17 (which isn't widely held; we'll discuss the interpretation of this verse as we continue), where he assumes (wrongly I believe) that the fact that the apostle Paul used rhema (and not logos) allows him to assume that Paul was referring to "the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture." Vine is assuming too much. For one thing, even though rhema could be used that way, I didn't find one verse in the New Testament where rhema is used of an "individual scripture." Significantly, however, logos is used quite a few times in the New Testament of individual verses of the Bible (see John 4:37; 12:38; 15:25; Rom. 9:9; 13:9; 1 Cor. 15:54; Gal. 5:14; and Heb. 7:29 with 7:21).

I haven't hardly considered the question whether rhema might be used much more often than logos for individual statements, etc. because it isn't relevant to this paper. I assume that there is a tendency in that direction, but there are so many exceptions to that tendency that it doesn't affect the interpretation of Eph. 6:17. I'll quote a sentence from the article under "word" dealing with the use of rhema in the New Testament from "The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology," Vol. 3, edited by Colin Brown, page 1121: "Whereas logos can often designate the Christian proclamation as a whole in the NT, rhema usually relates to individual words and utterances: man has to render account or every unjust word [Matt. 12:36]; Jesus answered Pilate without a single word [Matt. 27:14] ...." Apparently Vine is building heavily on the tendency mentioned in this quotation.

How about the commentators on Eph. 6:17. I looked at thirty-five commentaries on the book of Ephesians. Thirty-two of the commentators disagreed with Vine's assumption: Twenty-three said that rhema here refers to the Bible, and nine said that it refers to the gospel. The other three commentators said things similar to what Vine said here. Lastly, I'll mention that the well-respected BAGD Greek Lexicon said rhema refers to the gospel in Eph. 6:17.

I'll quote the relevant part of Eph. 6:17, "And take...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word [rhema] of God."

In agreement with the BAGD Greek Lexicon and a great majority of commentators on the book of Ephesians, I don't agree with Vine that rhema is used of "the individual scripture" in Eph. 6:17. As I mentioned, BAGD and quite a few commentators say rhema refers to the gospel here, and, as I showed above, Vine's article demonstrates that rhema is sometimes used for the gospel. I agree with the commentators who say rhema is used in Eph. 6:17 for the entire Word of God. Why limit the Word that the Spirit enables us to use in our daily lives, which includes spiritual warfare, to the gospel? Many verses in the Old Testament are very important to our daily lives, including our warfare against Satan and his hosts. The temptation of Jesus, for example, involved verses from the Old Testament.

I'll quote what the BAGD Greek Lexicon, third edition (which is very well respected, but not infallible), says (under rhema) regarding the use of rhema in Eph. 6:17. The heading under 1 is "that which is said, word, saying, expression, or statement of any kind." Toward the end of what BAGD says under 1, it has these words, words that are quite relevant to this study, under which Eph. 6:17 is listed (along with several other verses): "Generally the singular [The singular of rhema is used in Eph. 6:17] brings together all the divine teachings as a unified whole, with some such meaning as gospel, or confession:" So BAGD doesn't agree that rhema should be understood of "the individual scripture." I'll list the other verses that BAGD included with Eph. 6:17 here: Rom. 10:8 (twice); Eph. 5:26; Heb. 6:5; and 1 Pet. 1:25 (twice).

I don't have any problem with including Vine's idea that the Holy Spirit can bring passages of scripture that we have memorized to our remembrance on occasion (whether logos or rhema is used), but I don't believe that is the primary idea here. If the apostle Paul had wanted to make the point that the Spirit of God brings to our remembrance individual verses of the Bible that we have memorized, he would undoubtedly have stated that clearly. His use of rhema surely doesn't suffice to make that point. The apostle was saying a lot more than that here in Eph. 6:17. The Spirit of God enables us to rightly and effectively use all the Word of God (whether logos or rhema) with authority and power in our daily lives, very much including when we are involved in spiritual warfare against the forces of evil. He can even enable us to use verses we haven't memorized.

This is a very important part of what the Spirit does for us as we walk in faith (a faith that is based on God and His Word) and by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis (see Rom. 8:1-14; Gal. 5:16, for example). For one thing, the Spirit enables us to think right, which includes thinking in line with God's Word (Rom. 8:5-9; 12:1, 2; and Eph. 4:23 with the translation, "and be renewed by the Spirit in your mind/thinking.") These verses are discussed in my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin." Romans 12:1-8, which is a very important passage, is discussed in the Appendix of my "A Paper on Faith," which is available on my internet site; Google to Karl Kemp Teaching.

Even though I (with a great majority of others) don't agree with Vine's interpretation of Eph. 6:17, I don't believe that he meant to communicate the idea that the rhema word is alive, powerful, effective, revealed, etc., but that the logos word isn't. The things Vine said in this article about logos (that I quoted) demonstrate that he wasn't making that point, which would be an erroneous point. And I assume he wouldn't say that logos could not be used for an individual scripture that the Spirit of God brings to our remembrance. I have demonstrated that logos is used of individual scriptures quite a few times in the New Testament, and remember, for example, that a revealed word of knowledge and word of wisdom from the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 12:8) is a logos word. (Vine listed 1 Cor. 12:8 under the sub-heading "discourse, speech, of instruction etc.," but he didn't comment on the meaning of the verse.)

In summation, I don't agree with much that Vine said in his paragraph on rhema that we have been discussing. But I'm thankful that I can say that those who read his entire article will be kept from the errors dealing with logos and rhema that are circulating in parts of the Body of Christ in our day.

A discussion on the Parable of the Sower and some other verses that show some of the reasons why people do not bring forth good fruit when they are confronted with God's Word, even though it is alive, powerful, effective; etc.

There are a large number of verses where logos and rhema are used of God's Word, which is alive, powerful, effective, personal for us, etc., but just because God's word is alive, etc. doesn't mean that the word will be understood and received by those who hear it, that they will press on in the word and bring forth a harvest of righteous and good fruit at the end. Whether with logos or rhema, everything depends on the condition of our heart (according to this parable), which includes our attitudes, motives, priorities, etc. We are dependent on God's calling, convicting, drawing, revealing, enlightening, etc., but the Bible puts a strong emphasis on the need for us to rightly respond to God and His Word, from our hearts, by His grace, with repentance and faith. If we aren't interested, or at least don't become interested, in repenting, being forgiven, and coming into divine order in God's righteousness and holiness, through submitting to God and His salvation plan, the gospel won't be important to us, and it won't be alive, powerful, or effective to save us.

Matthew 13:1-24 (Mark 4:1-25; Luke 8:4-15 [Luke 8:4-18 are discussed in my "A Paper on Faith"]) and the Parable of the Sower. This parable shows, for one super-important thing, that although the seed is good, it will not produce any lasting good fruit if the soil is not good. (There is no problem with the Word of God, whether using logos or rhema; logos is used here in verses 19, 20, 21, 22 [twice], and 23; it is alive, powerful, effective, and personal for those who will rightly receive it.) Although Jesus doesn't clearly make this point in this parable, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that God can turn bad soil into good soil for those who begin to respond to the gospel of new covenant salvation with repentance and faith. We must make it a top priority to understand God's Word, to take it into our hearts, and to live by it, by grace through faith. (What we were doing with God's Word yesterday, and the day before, etc. will determine how well we will understand it today.) Mark 4:20, speaking of those who represent the good soil says, "they hear the word [logos] AND ACCEPT IT (they accept it for what it is) and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." We must be very careful HOW WE LISTEN TO GOD'S WORD (see Luke 8:18, "So take care how you listen...."). The New Testament frequently speaks of those who don't listen to God's Word.

"That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. (2) And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. [Many of the people in such crowds were not there for the right reasons.] (3) And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, 'Behold the sower went out to sow [It is clear (at least it is clear when we have Jesus' explanation of the parable in verses 18-23) that the sower is sowing the Word of God, "the word [logos] of the kingdom" (Matt. 13:19), the gospel; the ultimate Sower was the Lord Jesus.]; (4) and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. [[Jesus explained these words in verse 19: "When anyone hears the word [logos] of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road." We must make it a top priority to do everything we must do to be able to understand God's Word. For one thing, we will never understand God's Word until we are willing to do His will. (I'll quote what Jesus said in John 7:17, for example, "If anyone is willing to do His [God's will], he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.") If we draw near to God and begin to walk by His Spirit, the devil will not be able to steal God's Word (or His righteousness, or His salvation) from us.]] (5) Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of earth. (6) But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root they withered away. [I'll read what Jesus said about these people in verses 20, 21: "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word [logos] and immediately receives it with joy; (23) yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word [logos], immediately he falls away." We must make it a top priority to appropriate the fullness of the saving grace of God in Christ, which we learn about through God's Word, so this won't happen to us.] (7) Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. [I'll quote what Jesus said in verse 22, "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word [logos], and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." Again, we must appropriate the fullness of the saving grace of God in Christ that we learn about from His Word [logos], so this won't happen to us.] (8) And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. [[I'll quote what Jesus said in verse 23, "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word [logos] and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." Any people who truly humble themselves before God and make it a top priority to understand His Word (by His grace) and persist on that path (by His grace) will be able to understand God's Word and to live in line with His Word and bring forth much good fruit by His grace and for His glory.

I'll quote a paragraph from what R. C. H. Lenski says under Luke 8:15 ("The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel" [Wartburg Press, 1946] page 453.), "What the parable and its exposition describe is the final fate of the Word in the hearts of men. When life is done, some show a harvest; all the rest show no harvest. ... This final fate of the Word is shown us now so that we may examine ourselves as to how we are treating the Word now, before life is done. And this is done because, though no man can change himself, God has means to change us all, trodden path, rocky places, briar patches into good soil for his Word. This means of God is the Word itself as it is exhibited in this parable [the Word (logos) which is alive, powerful, effective, personal for us, etc.]. Like all the Scripture revelations of man's sinful states, this one, too, aims at the conscience and at repentance which thus opens the soul for the gospel. The more it is opened, the more fruit will there be in the end."]] (9) He who has ears, let him hear." [[Mark 4:3 begins this parable with the words, "Listen to this!" These words here in verse 9 indicate the supreme importance of really hearing God's Word (especially His Word dealing with new-covenant salvation), not just hearing the words of this parable. This parable was designed, for one thing, to warn the multitudes who came to Jesus with the need to really hear what He was saying. They desperately needed to hear His primary message, which centered in the need to repent and submit to Him and the One who sent Him and to His new-covenant salvation, which was God's complete and only answer to the sin, spiritual death, Satan problem, in the light of the fact that the day of judgment is coming.

These verses show that the sin problem runs very deep in the hearts of people, even in the hearts of the people of Israel, which makes it all the more mandatory that we learn of our need for salvation, what God has provided for us in Christ, and what He requires of us. The world, the flesh (the old man who still wants to live in the born-again Christian), and the devil and his hosts are against us. This parable, and many other things Jesus said, make it clear that He knew that many never would repent and submit in faith to God, His Son, and His logos (cf., e.g., John 3:19-21; 8:37-59; 10:1-18).]] (10) And the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?' (11) Jesus answered them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries [[The word "mysteries" is used here, as it often is in the New Testament, of the glory of God's new covenant plans that were not revealed in the days of the Old Testament but were now being revealed through the Lord Jesus, and before long would be revealed through His apostles (cf., e.g., Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 15:51; and Eph. 3:9). I should mention that God has revealed a lot more to us than He revealed to those who heard Jesus when He ministered on the earth, including the revelation given through the apostles, very much including the all-important book of Revelation.]] of the kingdom of heaven [Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10 have the "kingdom of God" instead of the "kingdom of heaven." The kingdom of heaven/God is here now in its preliminary form.], but to them it has not been granted. [[We must be totally thankful for the salvation that God has prepared for us at a very high (infinite) cost to Himself and His Son, and for His revealing these things to us (to all who have ears to hear). He has truly given us the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45, 46). We must appreciate it for what it is and make these things the top priority of our hearts and lives. God, who knows the hearts of all people, doesn't reveal these things or give these things to those who won't appreciate them and use them, committing themselves to live for God in His imparted righteousness and holiness by His saving grace in Christ. See verse 12. The Bible shows that God can save people who are in great bondage to sin IF they will humble their hearts and begin to cooperate with His grace and persevere in His grace.]] (12) For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance [See under verse 11. I'll quote Luke 8:18, "So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has (or, "seems to have," margin of the NASB) shall be taken away from him."]; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. [If we do not love God and the things He has given us, and use them, we will eventually lose anything we do have from Him.] (13) Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. [[More can be said (for one thing, Jesus understood that some of the people in the multitudes He spoke to would become true disciples), but the point Jesus made here is that He spoke to those who were not His disciples in parables, because He didn't want them to understand what He was saying. God, who knows the hearts of all people, doesn't want all people to understand the gospel. For one thing, for many that knowledge would hurt them in that their ultimate rejection of God and His salvation would increase their guilt before God. Any "repentance" and "faith" would be shallow and temporary and do more harm that good. And it is very important to see that the more such people are part of the church and influence the church, the more damage they do to the church. Jesus frequently said things, and God frequently does things, designed to keep many people from becoming "Christians" or to separate such temporary non-committed "believers" from the church. Jesus consistently insisted that those who follow Him do so with total commitment (cf., e.g. Matt. 16:24-27; Luke 6:46-49; 9:62; and 14:25-33). We certainly confuse the issue and give prospective converts a faulty "gospel" if we don't inform them what God requires of Christians along with what He provides for them. We cannot change the gospel. God backs up and honors His Word; He doesn't back up or honor a gospel we have invented/modified.

We will continue this study of the Parable of the Sower in Part 4 of this paper.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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