There are many instances in the New Testament where confusion has resulted from a single English word having been used to represent multiple Greek words (see explanation in “Helps for Word Study”), and it is necessary to separate the disparate concepts for accurate understanding. This, however, is one of the much less frequent places where nearly synonymous Greek words have often been artificially divided in order to bolster “theological” arguments. Careful perusal of a non-theological lexicon like the historic Oxford work of Liddell and Scott, as well as the actual context of the New Testament uses of rhema and logos, reveals more similarity than difference. The two words are even used interchangeably on occasion: compare Mt.26:75 and Mk.14:72, which use rhema, with Lk.22:61, where the description of the same event uses logos; and the representation as the agent of creation and of its preservation, where II Pet.3:5-7 uses logos, and Heb.11:3 and 13 uses rhema. Any separation of meanings, therefore, must be made with caution and humility, since the sense must be derived from the context: the difference is not lexical.
It is true, however, that rhema represents considerably less diversity than does logos. Rhema refers simply to “anything said or spoken, the subject of a speech or matter”, and grammatically, “a phrase as opposed to a single word, or the verb, or predicate, in a sentence.” Logos, on the other hand, may refer to “computation or accounting” (Mt.18:23 and 25:19, Lk.16:2, Heb.13:17, I Pet.4:5); to “explanation, legal principle, or the statement of a theory or argument” (Mt.10:13, 22:46; Mk.12:13, Ac.22:22, 18:15); “inward or overt debate, thinking, reasoning” (I Cor.1:17, 2:4, 2:13, 4:20); “a continuous statement or narrative” (all the references to “preaching the word”); “a divine utterance” (“word of God, words of Jesus”); and various other forms of speech, argument, and discussion.
You may notice that none of these definitions make any reference to anything written – only to speech.
In the New Testament, therefore, it is more fruitful to explore other questions. One’s understanding and attitude, for example, will vary according to whose “word” he encounters. This is expressed by the genitive case, which may indicate either possession or source. There are many places where logos refers simply to a statement or conversation of ordinary people (Mt.12:37, Mt.10:14, Lk.23:9, Ac.15;24, Mt.22:46, and many others.) At least 21 times, something is specifically labeled “the word of God”; 23 times “the word of the Lord, of Jesus, of the Lord Jesus Christ, of Christ.” or, when Jesus himself is speaking, “my word. Even more frequently, (45 x), the choice is simply “the word”, referencing some aspect of the message of Jesus, regardless of who was speaking it.
Another use of the same (genitive) form indicates not possession, not source, but the content of the “word”. Here again, both logos and rhema are used in this way, joined by “of”:
– “the word of eternal life” (Jn.6:6)
– “the word of this life” (Ac.5:20, Phil.2:16, I Jn.1:1)
– “the word of truth” (Ac.26:25, II Cor.6:7, Eph.1:13, Col.1:5, II Tim.2:15, Jas.1:18)
– “the word of exhortation” (Ac.13:15, Heb.13:22)
– “the word of this salvation [rescue, safety]” (Ac.13:26)
– “the word of the prophets” (Ac.5;15), or “of prophecy” (II Pet.1:19, Rv.1:3)
– “the word of his grace” (Ac.20:32)
– “the word of promise” (Rom.9:9)
– “the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge” (Rom.12:8)
– “the word of reconciliation” (II Cor.5:19)
– “the word of faithfulness” (I Tim.4:6)
– “the word of righteousness / justice” (Heb.5:13)
A significant deviation in usage from the classical definitions occurs in another large group of references, all of which use logos. The word is also, in the words of Heb.4:12, “alive and powerful”! It is active:
– to heal (Mt.8:8) and to cast out evil spirits (Mt.8:16)
– to demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus (Lk.4:32,26)
– to pass judgment (Jn.12:47,48)
– to make disciples clean (Jn.15:3 – see previous post).
It “grew” and “multiplied (Ac.6:7, 12:24).
It was spread from the forming groups of disciples (I Thes.1:8), and was at work in their formation (2:13), able to “build them up” (Ac.20:32) and assure their inheritance.
It makes all foods holy (I Tim.4:5) and provides nourishment for faithful living (4:6).
It is the agent of new birth (Jas.1:18, I Pet.1:23), able to save and sustain those lives (Jas.1:21).
It was at work in the creation of all that exists (Heb.11:3), as well as its preservation (1:3).
Both rhema and logos are also used when the context is negative: “every idle word” (Mt.12:36) and the charges against Stephen (Ac.6:11,13) use rhema, while “speaking against Jesus” (Mt.12:32) and “those who corrupt the word” (II Cor.2:17) or handle it deceitfully (4:2) use logos. The words of such people can also have power (II Tim.2:17), “spreading like gangrene”, and any who ignore or distort the true word are to be avoided (I Tim.6:3 and I Thes.3:14). It was people who refused to hear the Father’s word (Jn.5:38) who failed to acknowledge and trust the Lord Jesus, and those in whom the word was not welcomed/received (Jn.8:37) who deliberately set out to destroy him.
By contrast, those who “hear / listen” (W.S.#27) and “accept” the word (Jn.12:47,48) are the ones who become faithful. These are admonished to remember, to be mindful of that word (II Pet.3:2, Jude 17), not to be ashamed of it (Mk.8:38), to “keep” it (Lk.11:28), and “continue in” it (Jn.8:34), with the result being the privilege to live in the freedom thereby engendered. Those who “received / welcomed” the word (Ac.2:41) were baptized as a testimony to their commitment (see chapter 10 of Citizens of the Kingdom). They are then urged to “encourage one another with these words” (I Thes.4:18), to “hold on to faithful words” (II Tim.1:13), and to handle the word correctly (II Tim.2:15), taking care that it not be discredited (Tit.2:5). James (1:22) is even more specific: hearing / listening is not enough: DOING the word is essential. John the elder agrees (I Jn.3:18) “Dear children, let’s don’t live in theory (logos) or in talk, but in action and truth!”
“And now, I turn you all over to the Lord, and to his word of grace [his gracious word], that can build you all up, and give (you) the inheritance among all those who have been made holy!”(Ac.20:32)
“Everything he says” is useful for that!