Not Traditional, Original

John 1 – The Slippery Slope of Applying Mathematical Precision to Language Expressions

In a previous article, Grammar and Logic – Boring But Invaluable, I wrote “Another mistake is to substitute the logic of one discipline for another. An area where I have seen this kind of mistake is in the fields of mathematics and languages. For example, some people read the word “is” and ascribe to that word the mathematical definition of “equals”.”

To reiterate it is important not to assume that you can apply mathematical precision to language expressions. In particular, in mathematics, we have the axiom that two things that are both equal to a third thing are equal to each other. Or, as it is written mathematically, if a equals B, and B equals C, then a equals C. You can use this axiom ad infinitum. If c equals d also, then a would equal d, and so forth.

This does not apply universally to expressions people use to communicate. The temptation is to say that anywhere someone uses the word “is”, you can substitute the word “equals”.

First, sometimes the logic does work and here is an example:

Minerals are inanimate.  Quartz is a mineral.  Therefore Quartz is inanimate.

The above is a syllogism, a concept introduced by Aristotle.

However, there are numerous examples where the word “is” doesn’t mean “equals”.  For example, US President Barack Obama (A) is a man (B). Nelson Mandela (C) is a man (B). Would anybody try to apply the above mathematical logic and say that Nelson Mandela is the U.S. president? Or that Nelson Mandela is Barack Obama?

Barack Obama(A)  = a man (B) = Nelson Mandela (C) Therefore Barack Obama(A)  = Nelson Mandela (C)

How ridiculous this is! Nelson Mandela was at one time the President of South Africa and is a terrific world leader. Whether or not you agree with his politics Barack Obama held the power of the U.S. presidency, a position of great honor and power.  These two both “equal” men, but they do not equal each other; in fact, they are very different men. And in fact, there are no examples where one man would “equal” another. John McCain, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Peyton Manning, and James Earl Jones are all men. But we all agree John McCain is NOT Kobe Bryant who is NOT Lebron James who is NOT Peyton Manning who is NOT James Earl Jones.

Yet the application of mathematical precision to the word “is” is exactly what many theologians do in the prologue of the gospel of John. The gospel of John says that the Logos is God.  It also says this same Logos was in the beginning with God.  A little further down the page, it says that this Logos became flesh and dwelt among men.  So we have all of the mathematically inclined theologians teaching that this is a mathematical expression. They say that the Logos equals God, that the Logos was in the beginning with God, and that the Logos was made flesh and dwelt among us. So we have a mathematical proof that Jesus is God, the God_man.

More specifically, defining “is” as “equals” to John 1 gives us this series of equations:

The Word = God

The  Word = Jesus Christ

Using the transitive property of mathematical precision we get:

The Word = God = Jesus Christ.

If you are going to apply mathematical precision defining “is” as “equals” to this statement then you need to apply it fully to all elements. The principle says that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.  Why aren’t people saying that the Word is God?  There are three elements here all supposedly equal to each other, the Word, God (the Father), and Jesus (the word made flesh).

No one is saying that the Word fully equates to God!

Anyone who makes the erroneous mathematical analysis that equates God, Jesus, and the Logos in the prologue of John’s gospel really does not understand the concept of Logos at all.  Just like today that there are topics that are discussed around the world like evolution, Islamic Jihadism, communism, and so forth, there were concepts that were just as heavily discussed 2000 years ago.  The Logos was one of those topics.  In looking at this discussion throughout the centuries before and after Christ we see philosophers, religious writers, and others, one after another, identifying the Logos in their scheme of reasoning as a divine principle in the grand scheme of life.

In the previous article on stoicism we discussed the stoic view of God, whom they defined as the Logos:

“… the universe is a single ordered whole , a perfect organism that unites within itself all that exists in the world. It is ruled by a supreme cosmic power, a fiery substance that the Stoics called Logos, Divine Reason, or God.  The Logos is the organizing, integrating, and energizing principle of the whole universe.  As a perfect entity, the universe combines within itself the Logos or Divine Reason, which is its soul, and matter, which serves as its body. Since everything is derived from God, everything is a part of God, but not separated or cut from the whole.  Each individual soul is a fragment of the universal Logos or God.”[i]

This stoic philosophy of the Logos as an intermediary force is much closer to the explanation given in the prologue of the Gospel of John than any kind of quick mathematical analysis perfectly equating the Logos to both God and his Son.

More closely to the language of the times the prologue of John says that the Word of God is the powerful energized plan of God. This powerful energized plan of God has been with him from the beginning and is what we know about God the Father. In reality, as minuscule, finite beings we can only understand that part of God that he reveals to us. This Word of God, this plan of redemption that God set in motion, and revealed through the law and the prophets, and experienced through our spiritual connection with him is God to us.  But in reality, the little bit of God that has been revealed to us cannot in any way fully express to our minuscule minds who God is.

Jesus Christ, our Lord, is that human fulfillment of God’s energized plan, the logos. Just as the logos is God to us, but less than the total of all that God is, Jesus is that part of God’s plan that works to provide a human savior for mankind. As such, Jesus is the embodiment, the reason for that energized plan.  He is the living Word of God.  That is in no ways a small feat, but that does not make the living Logos equal to the creator, at least not by anything that these verses are saying.

[i] The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster New York, 1961. p.51

© copyright 2011-2019 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved. Edited 2019

March 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Grammar and Logic | 2 comments


  1. John’s prologue does not say the “word of God” but simply the “Word”. As written, it’s very straining to see the Word as the powerful energized plan of God. A common sense reading of John 1 is that the Word is someone and the someone is Jesus.

    Comment by Doug Morris | April 14, 2019

  2. Thank you for your response.
    You are right; I did not need to add the “of God” to Word. I chose to because the “word” and word of God” are used synonymously in scripture. Also, I have written previously that “Logos” had different meanings in different religions and I wanted to emphasize that John’s use of Logos referred to our Word of God. Jesus is referred to as the Word made flesh in John 1:14 and the Word of God in Revelation 19:13.
    There is a saying that common sense isn’t always common. What people call common sense varies from place to place, group to group, and even from person to person. In the USA Democrats and Republicans promote different “common sense.” Men and women often have different common sense. Children and parents often have different common sense. What’s common sense in New York may not be common sense in Charlotte and vice versa. Trying to use common sense to interpret scripture means a lot of people are going to read a lot of different things into bible verses which seems to be what is going on sometimes anyway.
    I am sorry if my explanation of the Logos is difficult. The point of the post wasn’t to explain the Logos as much to show that there is a problem substituting the word “equals” for the word “is”, which is something I have heard done from the pulpit.
    The Logos is a complex idea that I do not think can be easily explained and that is part of the reason, I believe, for its use in John chapter 1. John chapter 1 gives a beautiful image of what is going on with Jesus birth without going into the complexities of what is going on. Part of the reason I gave my explanation of the Logos as the energized plan of God was to show how complex it was compared to the simple, majestic, imagery presented in John chapter 1.
    I hope this helps and I wish you the best.

    Comment by Mark Smith | June 24, 2019

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