Examining Traditions and Translation: Logos and Sophia

We are continuing our discussion on John’s Prologue (here) today with an examination of the Logos (Word) in the light of Sophia (Wisdom). This is nothing new, and nothing new will I have written when I last write, but it is important, I believe, to note that the feminine in the Old Testament became the masculine in the New – that is, if we can connect the Sophia to the Logos.

R. Bultmann believed that the original prologue was a gnostic tribute to John the Baptizer, but was Christianized to reflect Christ as the Incarnated Logos. Bultmann, of course, is wrong.

Instead, we turn to John’s community, if we take the assigned author at face value (after all, we learn from the earliest Church Fathers, including Irenaeus who learned it from Polycarp, and from Papias, John did in fact write this book.) Because we turn to Judaism, or one of the streams of Judaism present at that time, we must then draw from their source material, which was their set of Scriptures, most likely the Septuagint.

The translation of John’s Prologue below is from William Tyndale’s translation (no doubt influenced greatly by Luther’s work, for more see this book).

1.1  In the beginning was the word, and that word was with God: and God was that word.

“The LORD formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else. I was appointed in ages past, at the very first, before the earth began. (Proverbs 8:22-23 NLT)

From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall remain. (Sirach 24:9 NJB)

1.2 The same was in the beginning with God.

“I was there when he established the heavens, when he drew the horizon on the oceans. I was there when he set the clouds above, when he established the deep fountains of the earth. I was there when he set the limits of the seas, so they would not spread beyond their boundaries. And when he marked off the earth’s foundations, I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight, rejoicing always in his presence. (Proverbs 8:27-30 NLT)

With you (God) is Wisdom, she who knows your works, she who was present when you made the world; she understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what agrees with your commandments. (Wisdom 9:9 NJB)

1.3 All things were made by it, and without it, was made no thing, that made was.

for Wisdom, the designer of all things, has instructed me. (Wisdom 7:21b NJB)

1.4 In it was life; And life was the light of men;

For whoever finds me finds life, And obtains favor from the LORD; (Proverbs 8:35 NKJV)

By means of her, immortality will be mine, I shall leave an everlasting memory to my successors.
(Wisdom 8:13 NJB)

Wisdom is brilliant, she never fades. By those who love her, she is readily seen, by those who seek her, she is readily found. (Wisdom 6:12 NJB)

1.5 And the light shineth in the darkness, and darkness comprehended it not.

She is indeed more splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations; compared with light, she takes first place, for light must yield to night, but against Wisdom evil cannot prevail. (Wisdom 7:29-30 NJB)

The prologue is interupted for a brief ‘truth’ about John – that he was not the Light, just a witness to the Light.

1:10  He was in the world, and the world by him was made: and the world knew him not.

Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, Rejoicing in His inhabited world, And my delight was with the sons of men. (Proverbs 8:30-31 NKJV)

She has made a home in the human race, an age – old foundation, and to their descendants will she faithfully cling. (Sirach 1:15 NJB)

Strongly she reaches from one end of the world to the other and she governs the whole world for its good. (Wisdom 8:1 NJB)

No one can learn the way to her, no one can understand the path she treads. (Baruch 3:31 NJB)

1:11 He came among his own, and his received him not.

Then the Creator of all things instructed me and he who created me fixed a place for my tent. He said, “Pitch your tent in Jacob, make Israel your inheritance.” From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall remain. In the holy tent I ministered before him and thus became established in Zion. (Sirach 24:8-10 NJB)

He has uncovered the whole way of knowledge and shown it to his servant Jacob, to Israel his well-beloved; only then did she appear on earth and live among human beings. (Baruch 3:37-38 NJB)

It is because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom! (Baruch 3:12 NJB)

1:12  Unto as many as received him, gave he power to be the sons of God: in that they believed on his name:

Although she is alone, she can do everything; herself unchanging, she renews the world, and, generation after generation, passing into holy souls, she makes them into God’s friends and prophets; for God loves only those who dwell with Wisdom. (Wisdom 7:27-28 NJB)

1:14 And that word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw the glory of it, as the glory of the only begotten son of the father, which word was full of grace, and verity.

Then the Creator of all things instructed me and he who created me fixed a place for my tent. He said, “Pitch your tent in Jacob, make Israel your inheritance.” From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall remain. In the holy tent I ministered before him and thus became established in Zion. (Sirach 24:8-10 NJB)

In translation, I believe that it is important to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, meaning that in reading John’s prologue (not to mention his epilogue 1st John 1.1-4), we must take into account the long standing Wisdom Tradition that surrounded the Apostle.

One may look at it this way – John was writing to a community steeped in this tradition – whether right or wrong – and used the words which they would understand. In doing so, he used the Tradition prevalent in 2nd Temple Judaism – that the Logos/Sophia was not distinct hypostasis, but existed with in God as attributes. John carries it further, in that Logos was made flesh, something Sophia had never seen.

I also would like to note that John’s use of Logos mirrors Wisdom 18 –

When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word like a pitiless warrior into the heart of a land doomed to destruction. Carrying your unambiguous command like a sharp sword, (Wisdom 18:14-15 NJB)

In the beginning, we have the maker of all things, God’s wisdom/word, and indeed, this wisdom/word was God. When Israel, and by reflection, humanity, lay in the grasp of Egypt/Rome/Sin, God sent forth His Logos, down from the royal throne (which is also the abode of Wisdom)  carrying the command of God, and it was this command which would bring salvation.

I do not believe that you can too easily remove theology from translation, and translation from theology – although it is a delightful exercise. I am handicapped in this area, being an novice in Greek, and lacking the letters of learned men and women – yet, this for me is a joy that fills my days.

Suzanne makes a statement:

If the logos is the sophia, then we need to signal that sophia, the pre-incarnate “expression” of God is feminine; just as Jesus, the logos become flesh, is masculine.

I believe that the Logos and the Sophia are uniquely connected, both coming from Jewish speculation about God. I believe, for now, that Wisdom is seen easily as feminine because she is the giver of life, while the pre-incarnate Word is seen as masculine because it is active apart from life. I may better say it such, that Sophia is the unseen creative force, while the logos is God speaking. Two sides of the same coin, whole, unique, of God, and God.

(Thomas Tobin’s Article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary is an excellent resource and has provided the comparision.)

(Further, check out this post here.)

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7 Replies to “Examining Traditions and Translation: Logos and Sophia”

  1. Helpful, but his dismissal of Bultmann troubles. I heard an Episcopal priest say that in the prologue to the Gospel of John, Sophia was changed to Logos long, long ago. Why was this change made if not to reflect the second person of the Trinity, the Son?

    1. Patricia, I’m not sure where that Priest got his information, but it’s wrong. Nothing we have says that Sophia was changed to Logos. Indeed, Philo and the author of Wisdom of Solomon used Logos, which is the precursor to the Logos theology of St John’s Gospel.

        1. Also, you may want to look at how Sophia and Logos (Wisdom and Word) became conjoined in 2nd and 3rd century Christian theology — conjoined with the Father so that some theologians saw them as the hands of the Father…and of course, this grew to become the Trinity

          1. Ordered the book. Should be arriving tomorrow. I am looking forward to reading it. Thank you again for the suggestion.

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