All quotations from the Bible were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted.
Introduction. (In Part 1 of this paper)
The different ways logos and rhema are translated by the New American Standard Bible and some examples of verses where logos and rhema are used in contexts that have nothing to do with the Word of God. (In Part 1 of this paper)
Logos, rhema, and the written Word of God. (In Part 1 of this paper)
Many key passages that use logos where rhema would be expected, based on the popular, but wrong, views regarding logos and rhema. (Started in Part 1 of this paper; finished in Part 2)
Some examples where people hear a rhema word, but the word is not received, or in some cases is not understood, by those who hear it. (Ten uses of the total number of the 67 uses of rhema in the New Testament are included with these examples.) (In Part 2 of this paper)
Quite a few examples where rhema is used of God's Word in an exalted sense, where it is alive, powerful, effective, etc. However, as I mentioned, I don't believe the meaning of any of these verses would change in any meaningful way if logos was used instead of rhema. (In Part 2 of this paper)
Several examples where logos and rhema are used together in the same setting with the same meaning. (In Part 2 of this paper)
What do the scholarly works that deal with the meaning of New Testament words have to say on this topic? (In Part 3 of this paper)
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 (whether logos or rhema), even though it is alive, powerful, effective, etc. (Started in Part 3 of this paper; finished in Part 4)
Some more passages that show that we must receive God's living, powerful, effective, personal word into our hearts, understand it, hold if fast, obey it, etc. (In Part 4 of this paper)
Some more verses that will help us understand why so many people don't submit to, love, or persevere in God's Word, even though it Is alive, powerful, effective, etc. (Started in Part 4 of this paper; finished in Part 5)
I'll close this study by quoting several more important verses that demonstrate the exalted use of logos in the New Testament. (In Part 5 of this paper)
Introduction. I wrote a three and one-half page handwritten article (before I began to type) dealing with this topic in September, 1995, but I'll go into a lot more detail in this paper. The problems associated with widespread misunderstandings regarding the meaning of the Greek words logos and rhema, which are most often translated word(s) in the New Testament, are worse now than they were in 1995. This isn't the most serious error we need to deal with in the Body of Christ in our day, but it needs to be addressed. Some have addressed the problem already. I noticed that there are quite a few articles dealing with the meaning of these words on the internet (most of the articles are brief), many are perpetuating the errors and a few are written to refute the errors.
I'll briefly define the problem (there are several varieties of viewpoints that misunderstand the meaning of logos and rhema): You often hear (or read) that logos is the written word and rhema is the spoken word. That's bad for a start, because logos is only used for the written word in about seven percent of its uses in the New Testament, and rhema is also used for the written word in the New Testament, though less often than logos. Some don't make the mistake of saying that logos is used (or always used) for the written word and rhema for the spoken word, but we hear this a lot. And, significantly, we often hear that the rhema word is alive, powerful, effective, revealed and understood, personal, etc. in contrast with the logos word, which needs to be awakened and changed to a rhema word to meet many of our needs. I should mention up front that it is very important for us to know that God's written word is alive, powerful, effective, personal, etc. When there is a problem, it typically comes from the condition of the hearts of those who come in contact with God's Word (see the Parable of the Sower, for example; we will discuss that parable in this paper); God's written Word is alive, powerful, effective, personal, etc. for those who come to it with open, repentant, humble, believing hearts.
The words "for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" of 1 Cor. 3:6 are often seriously wrongly used to illustrate the supposedly dead written logos word of God before the Spirit of God makes it a rhema word. However, what the apostle Paul was saying in context (in 2 Corinthians chapter 3) was that we desperately need new-covenant salvation, which brings us the outpoured and indwelling Holy Spirit of God. We are born again by the outpoured Spirit, and we are required (and privileged) to walk by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis. And He enables us to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, keeping the moral requirements of God's Law in our daily lives. The indwelling Spirit of God is here to help us in every area of our lives, including the gifts of the Spirit.
The apostle Paul frequently makes the point (like he does in 2 Corinthians chapter 3) that (the letter of) God's Law kills (brings death), in that the Law intensifies the sin problem, rather than solves the sin problem for man in the flesh, for man not having the new-covenant enablement of the Holy Spirit. (See Rom. 4:15, 5:13, 21; 7:5-13; Gal. 3:10-14; and 1 Cor. 15:56.) The new-covenant work of the Holy Spirit makes all the difference. (See Rom. 8:1-17, Gal. 5:16-25; and 6:8, for example.) For one thing, as verses like Ezek. 36:27 ("I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.") and Rom. 8:4 ("so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.") demonstrate (also see Jer. 31:31-34; Rom. 2:25-29), the Holy Spirit enables us to keep God's moral Law in our daily lives, which is a way of saying that He enables us to walk in the imparted righteousness and holiness of God. These super-important things are discussed in detail in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ," and in many of my articles and papers.
Many Christians in our day define a "rhema word" as a word that God drops into our heart (by revelation), or where He turns a spotlight on a passage of the Bible so that it becomes alive and personal to us - it becomes a rhema word to us, they say. I agree that God can give personal words of revelation to direct us, correct us, and help us in various ways, etc. He is our Father, and we are His born-again children. He loves us, and we are totally dependent on Him. The Bible doesn't answer every question. It doesn't tell us, for example, who God calls into the ministry, or what ministry, or give us specific direction in every situation.
1 Corinthians 12:8 is probably the best example of God's giving us words of revelation in the New Testament, "For to one is given the WORD of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the WORD of knowledge according to the same Spirit." God can guide us by His Spirit with a "word of knowledge" or "word of wisdom," for example, but this has nothing to do with a supposed difference in meaning between the Greek words logos and rhema. According to many in our day, such a revelation would be called a rhema word, which is alive, understood, relevant, etc. for the one(s) who receive the revelation. Many readers will undoubtedly be surprised to learn that the Greek word translated "word" in "word of knowledge" and "word of wisdom" is logos. Sometimes the facts get in the way of our ideas, assumptions, theories. Thank God for the truth! Thank God for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches!
It's also true that God can turn a spotlight on a particular passage of the Bible (showing us the meaning of that passage, etc.), but it doesn't square with the meaning of the Greek words logos and rhema to say, as it is often said in our day, that that passage of the Bible has now become a rhema word for us. There is nothing about the word rhema that makes it more suitable than logos for God's revealing something to His children, including His turning a spotlight on a passage of the Bible, one way, or another, so that it becomes alive and personal to us in a special way. By the way, I don't see any examples in the New Testament where rhema is used where God does something special to a passage of the Bible so that it becomes a so-called rhema word for us. I don't see any support in the New Testament for the popular (but wrong) viewpoints regarding logos and rhema. These viewpoints cause considerable confusion.
As I mentioned, I agree that God does sometimes reveal things to His people (including guiding His people, especially ministers, to the correct interpretation of His Word), but we must be very careful with such revelations. Did it really come from God, or did it come from us, or from an evil being posing as an angel of light? It can obviously cause great damage if we think we, or some other Christian (especially influential ministers), have a revelation from God but we/they don't. And this happens all too often. Jesus warned us (in Matt. 7:15-23), for example, that we must check out those who call themselves prophets (and other ministers). He said to check them by their fruit, with the emphasis on how they are living (especially see verses 21, 23). Are they truly living for God in His righteousness and holiness? And we are warned in 1 John 4:1-6 that we must test every teaching (and the spirit behind that teaching) against what God has already revealed - we must put a very strong emphasis on God's written word, which we know is true. Every teaching/revelation must line up with God's written word.
It's true that rhema, when it is used of God's Word in the New Testament, is often alive, personal, revealed and understood, powerful, and effective in the hearts and lives of those who submit to God's Word in humble faith. But the same good things can be said regarding logos, and logos is used much more often that way in the New Testament than rhema. For one thing, the Greek noun logos is used five times more often than rhema in the New Testament. (You should also be aware of the fact that sometimes Jesus' apostles, disciples, parents, etc. did not understand the rhema He spoke to them. I'll give some examples in a section below.)
There are many verses that use rhema where rhema is used of God's Word which is alive, powerful, effective, just like with logos, but just because God's word is alive (whether logos or rhema) doesn't mean that the word will be alive in those who hear it. We are dependent on God's convicting, drawing, revealing, enlightening, etc., but the condition of our heart, our attitudes, motives, priorities, etc. is a dominant factor determining whether we will respond (in faith) to God's Word and take it into our hearts, or not. The Bible puts a strong emphasis on the need for us to rightly listen to and respond to God and His Word. We'll discuss this later, including discussing the Parable of the Sower. We must be very careful how we listen to God's Word, for one thing.
A primary goal for this paper is to show that everything good that can be said about the use of rhema in the New Testament can also be said about logos. I don't believe that there are any verses that use rhema where logos could not be used instead, and without any discernable difference in meaning. But at least two good things can be said about logos that cannot be said about rhema. As I mentioned logos is the favored word in the New Testament, being used five times more often than rhema. And, significantly, logos has the distinction of being used as the title for the unique Son of God, the LOGOS (see John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1; and Rev. 19:13), who was with God the Father in the beginning, who was sent to the earth to become the God-man through the virgin birth to become the Lamb of God and our Savior and Lord. God the Father created every being and thing that has ever been created through His Son (John 1:1-3, 10, 1 Cor. 8:6 (NIV); Heb. 1:3); and the Son was the perfect One to reveal the Father to us (cf. John 1:18).
Logos is a very special word used in the New Testament. Very often, as this paper shows, it is used in exalted ways. Back in the 70s, when I had to pick a name for my ministry to register in the state of Missouri, I picked the name "LOGOS Teaching Ministries."
It is somewhat surprising to me that these erroneous viewpoints regarding logos and rhema got started in the first place and that they have spread so rapidly in some circles. As I will demonstrate in this paper, there is essentially nothing in the Bible that backs up these viewpoints. Some of these viewpoints are further from the truth than others. One thing that we have to be very careful about is the error of thinking that God's written Word isn't alive. It is alive for those who take it for what it is - God's word to man! We'll speak more about these things as we continue.
There are quite a few scholarly resources that are quite helpful on the meaning of the words used in the New Testament, including the words logos and rhema. I'll mention the ones I looked at later in this paper. Reading through what they said on the meaning of logos and rhema in the New Testament, I didn't find any support for the erroneous viewpoints that we are considering in this paper. There is one rather minor exception. I probably wouldn't have looked at W. E. Vine's "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with the Precise Meanings for English Readers" if it were not for the fact that I noticed that many of the articles written about the supposed significant differences between logos and rhema refer to a paragraph in that book, in the article under "word," where he discusses logos and rhema. They are reading a lot more into that paragraph than what Vine said, and what he says in the rest of the article, by itself, confirms that the erroneous viewpoints we are considering in this paper are wrong. I'll quote that paragraph below and discuss what Vine said in that article.
I learned a long time ago that the most important tool for determining the meaning of words used in the Bible is to look up all of the uses of that word in the Bible and determine what the words mean in their biblical contexts. (That's more difficult when a word is used more than 300 times, like the word logos.) That's the primary tool we will be using in this paper, but we won't discuss all of the verses. I have been greatly rewarded for doing such word studies for some words of key importance that are controversial, like the words righteousness (with the companion words including righteous, justify, justification, etc.) and holiness (with the companion words holy, saint, sanctification, etc.). I have spent more than 100 hours on both of those words, and it was well worth the time. We cannot rightly understand sentences in the Bible if we don't know the meaning of the words in the sentences, especially the meaning of key words like those I mentioned. It would be worth spending a thousand hours to understand the meaning of such words, or many more than a thousand hours if necessary. As I mentioned, we will never understand the Bible if we don't understand the meaning of the words.
Once wrong (or inadequate) definitions or interpretations are accepted, it is very difficult to get rid of them. Each group tends to demand loyalty to their accepted definitions and interpretations. If you (especially ministers) suggest your group is in error, you probably won't be part of that group much longer. For one thing, pride can play a key role here; and nobody likes to admit they (and their group) have been wrong, but it is totally necessary for every one of us to make God and His truth and righteousness top priority. WE ARE ALL GOING TO HAVE TO ANSWER TO HIM! Wrong definitions and interpretations do great damage to the Body of Christ! Another big part of the problem is that Satan and his hosts make it a priority to lead Christians to wrong interpretations of the Bible, and all too often Christians have been quick to follow their lead. For one thing, it seems that many Christians like new interpretations. How desperately we need to make it a top priority to always seek to learn and to hold the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on every topic, especially the more important topics. Rightly dividing God's Word and then living it must be a top priority for every Christian!
The different ways logos and rhema are translated by the New American Standard Bible and some examples of verses where logos and rhema are used in contexts that have nothing to do with the Word of God:
I'm going to quote what the "Greek Dictionary" in the back of the "Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," 1995 edition, for the New American Standard Bible, has for logos and rhema. (It was published by the Lockman Foundation in 1998.) An exhaustive concordance like this is one of the most helpful Bible study tools available to Christians.
Under Logos: "...a word (as embodying an idea), a statement, a speech: - account(7), accounts*(1), accounting(2), accounts(2), answer(1), appearance(1), complaint(1), exhortation*(1), how to do(1), instruction(1), length*(1), matter(4), matters(1), message(10), news(3), preaching(1), question(2), reason(2), reasonable(1), remark(1), report(1), said(1), say(1), sayings(4), saying(1), speaker(1), speech(10), statement(18), story(1), talk(1), teaching(2), thing(2), things(1), utterance(2), what he says(1), what*(1), WORD(179), WORDS(61)" (my capitalization). The total number is 332, according to these numbers.
An asterisk (*) means that the key word represents two or more Greek words.
Under Rhema: "...a word, by implication, a matter: - charge(1), discourse(1), fact(2), matters(1), message(2), nothing*(1), remark(1), say(1), say say(1) [apparently this Greek Dictionary has a typographical error here], saying(1), sayings(3), statement(6), thing(2), things(4), WORD(18), WORDS(22)" (my capitalization). The total number is 67.
You will notice that the words logos and rhema are both translated other ways too, like "matter(s)" or "thing(s)." I won't comment on those other translations in this paper. I should point out that logos and rhema are both used several places where the words are the words of men that don't have anything to do with the Word of God. I'll give two examples for both words. For rhema, Matt. 12:36, "But I tell you that every careless word [rhema] that people speak, they will give an accounting for it in the day of judgment." And Acts 6:11, "Then they secretly induced men to say, 'We have heard him [Stephen] speak blasphemous words [plural of rhema] against Moses and against God." For logos, 2 Pet. 2:3, "and in their greed they will exploit you with false words [plural of logos]; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." And 1 John 3:10, "...unjustly accusing us with wicked words [plural of logos]...."
Logos, rhema, and the written Word of God. Like I mentioned, there are some variations in the erroneous viewpoints regarding the meaning of logos and rhema, but one of the biggest errors that you often hear is that logos is always used of the written word, whereas rhema is always used of the spoken word. A quick glance at the ways logos is translated suffices to show that logos isn't always used of the written word, but when you get into the details it becomes a lot more obvious. As I will demonstrate, when logos is translated "word(s)" it refers to a spoken word most of the time. Some 7 percent of the total uses of logos in the New Testament refer to the written word.
I'll give a few examples where logos is used of God's written word: 1 Cor. 15:54, "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying [logos; or we could translate "the word"] that is written, 'death is swallowed up in victory [quoting from Isa. 25:8].' " The apostle Paul went on to quote from Hos. 13:14. It is important to understand that God's written word is alive too. It is alive for those who appreciate the fact that it is God's word speaking to us. I'll also quote part of Acts 15:15, "With this the words [plural of logos] of the Prophets agree," then James goes on to quote Amos 9:11, 12. And I'll quote Rev. 1:3, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words [plural of logos] of the prophecy [referring to the super-important book of Revelation], and heed [or, keep] the things which are written in it." (Also see Rev. 22:7, 9, 10, 18, 19, which also refer to the words [plural of logos] of the prophecy of the book of Revelation.) The words of this prophecy are alive (along with all of God's written Word), and we are required to make it a top priority to understand them and live in line with them by the grace of God in Christ through faith.
It is significant to this study to learn that rhema is also used of God's written Word in the New Testament. I'll quote Matt. 4:4, "But He answered [Jesus answered the devil] and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word [rhema] that proceeds out of the mouth of God." ' " In that context it would be understood by the Lord Jesus, by the devil, and by those reading the Gospel of Matthew that "every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" refers (at least for the most part) to the word of God written in the Old Testament. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament three times in Matt. 4:1-11 and the devil quoted from it once. 2 Pet. 3:2, "that you should remember the words [plural of rhema] spoken beforehand by the holy prophets [referring (at least for the most part) to their words written in the Old Testament] and the commandments of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles." I'll also quote Eph. 6:17, "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word [rhema] of God." The Spirit of God, who dwells in us as born-again Christians, enables us to effectively use the word of God as the need arises in our warfare against sin and Satan and his hosts. (Jesus used the word of God against Satan in Matt. 4:1-11.) The "word of God" for the apostle Paul's first readers very much included the Old Testament along with the gospel they had learned from the apostle Paul and others. In our day the word of God that we use in our daily lives, which includes our warfare against the evil one and his hosts, refers to God's written Word, the Bible. We'll discuss Eph. 6:17 later in this paper.
Many key passages that use logos where rhema would be expected, based on the popular, but wrong, views regarding logos and rhema:
Matthew 8:8. "But the centurion said, 'Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word [logos], and my servant will be healed.' " That word was alive, powerful, effective, etc. So too for the verses that follow.
Matthew 8:16. "When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word [logos], and healed all who were ill."
Luke 4:32, 36. "and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message [logos], was with authority. (36) And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, 'What is this message [logos]? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.' "
John 15:3. "You are already clean because of the word [logos] which I have spoken to you."
Acts 15:7. "After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, 'Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word [logos] of the gospel and believe.' " The word of the gospel is alive, powerful, and effective to save all who submit to God and His word in faith.
Acts 15:32. "Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message [logos]." Their word was filled with truth and alive and effective to encourage and strengthen the brethren.
Acts 19:20. "So the word [logos] of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing."
Acts 20:32. "And now I commend you to God and to the word [logos] of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
Romans 15:18. "For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word [logos] and deed."
1 Corinthians 1:18. "For the word [logos] of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
1 Corinthians 2:4, 5. "and my message [logos] and my preaching were not in persuasive words [plural of logos] of wisdom [Paul is speaking of worldly wisdom, of which the Greeks (including the Corinthians) were proud. See verse 5.], but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, (5) so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power [Greek dunamis] of God."
1 Corinthians 12:8. "For to one is given the word [logos] of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word [logos] of knowledge according to the same Spirit." These words from God were revealed, alive, and effective. In 1 Cor. 14:19 the apostle Paul speaks of "words [plural of logos; words that come from the Holy Spirit] in a tongue [speaking in tongues, as in 1 Cor. 14:2, 4, etc.]."