Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Logos and Entelechy (Gospels 3)


In the beginning [of] God created the heavens and the earth . . . And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said . . .

(Genesis 1:1-3 NKJV, with the addition “[of]”)



Why isn’t the Logos mentioned in Genesis 1?  Or is it?  Logos is a Greek word and Genesis was written in Hebrew.  Are there any suggestions of the Greek Logos in any Hebrew words in Genesis?  Christian writers have long pursued the connections between John’s Gospel and Plato, Aristotle’s teacher; however, they have not been as interested in pursuing the connections between John and Aristotle (Plato’s student).  


Plato and Philo


Brittanica.com explains how Philo Judaeus, who was a contemporary of Jesus and lived in Alexandria, Egypt, may have provided some of the backdrop for the first chapter of John:


Philo reconciled his Jewish theology with Plato’s theory of Ideas: . . . he posited the Ideas as God’s eternal thoughts, which God then created as real beings before he created the world.  Philo saw the cosmos as a great chain of being presided over by the Logos . . . the mediator between God and the world, though . . . he identifies the Logos as a second God. Philo departed from Plato . . . using the term Logos for the Idea of Ideas . . . In anticipation of Christian doctrine he called the Logos the first-begotten Son of God . . . the image of God, and second to God.


In some respects (though, certainly, not exactly), Philo’s notion of God’s thoughts being, in essence, created and personified (“as real beings”) parallels my observations in my book Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication (Logology).  I credit the existence of angels to God’s words being personified, in a fashion I deduced from the considerable discussion of the subject in both rabbinic and New Testament texts, but I would never suggest that God somehow “created” his own Spirit.  In contrast to Philo Judeus, the first chapter of John does NOT identify the Logos as an Idea of Ideas, something which God created, or as the mediator between God and the world.  John does NOT see the cosmos as a great chain of being presided over by the Logos. 


Genesis Parallel


Rather, John sees his Logos as coexistent with (even identical to?) God “en archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ).  The Greek phrase ἐν ἀρχῇ is virtually always translated “in the beginning,” which (since it sounds like the first word/s of Genesis) conjures up the creation story.  One can easily envision God’s spoken word (=Logos=the fiats of creation, such as “let there be light”) as existing simultaneously with God “in the beginning.”  Was John, then, personifying the spoken word (=the Spirit) of God and naming it Logos?  Not exactly.  On page 150 of my book Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication, I write: 


Jewish scholar G. F. Moore links . . . three terms . . . together quite easily.  In his chapter entitled, "The Word of God:  The Spirit," Moore states, "God's will is made known or effectuated in the world not only through personal agents (ANGELS), but directly by his WORD or by his SPIRIT" (emphases mine).


Since John himself (quoting Jesus) emphasizes that God IS spirit (John 4:24) and the facts that the “Spirit of God” is hovering over the face of the waters and God is speaking “words” are all found in Genesis 1:1-3, the possibility of the Logos being identified as the Spirit of God is a very definite possibility.  Identifying the Logos-become-flesh as Jesus may be a later development in the entelechy, though Jesus is explicit as the beginning (ἀρχῇ) of creation in Revelation 3:14, the verse to which we will return momentarily.


Aristotle’s Entelechy


            According to John, Logos existed simultaneously with God in the ἀρχῇ of creation.  The terminology --ἐν ἀρχῇ strikes me as more of an Aristotelian-than-Platonic concept, found in Aristotle’s doctrine of entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια—a word coined by Aristotle to describe any process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end implicit throughout the process.  Incidentally, “implicit” is the first word of the title of my book Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy.  Although the word ἐν forms the first two letters of the word ἐντέλεχεια, the τέλος root (meaning end or purpose or goal) comes after the ἐν, rather than the ἀρχη root (meaning beginning or that which causes a process to begin).  Aristotle’s entelechy is interested, however, in both beginnings and ends and how they are interrelated.  One might even over-simplify the matter by saying that “the end is implicit in the beginning.”  Kenneth Burke’s handiest example, then, of Aristotle’s entelechy is the “seed,” which even though it has not yet begun to grow holds implicitly within itself the entire history of what the plant will be throughout its lifetime.  Another way to put it is:  the τέλος is implicit in the ἀρχη.  The “explicit” is that which one has specifically heard or seen.  The “implicit” has not yet been heard or seen, but is clearly understood to exist whenever one hears or sees another thing.  For example, when we “explicitly” see a stalk of wheat, “implicitly” we know that a grain of wheat was involved somewhere in a growth process, and conversely, whenever a grain of wheat is “explicitly” seen planted, we know that the root and stalk and leaves and future grains are all “implicit” in the process of the growth of that seed.  Indeed, Aristotle even thinks of the agent/person/individual who begins the process of change as the archê.  The archê (or builder) is separate from the art (or house) that he builds.  Yet, implicit in the builder (agent/person/individual) is his “purpose” or end or goal.  He contains (in his mind) the blueprint and picture of the final design and purpose of the house.  Therefore, archê can be the cause that begins a process.  The archê can be the agent/person/individual—while also containing the agent/person/individual who also contains the purpose or end (telos/τέλος) of the process.

The Book of Revelation employs the same important terminology that is fundamental to Aristotle's concept of entelechy.  I note, especially, the language of archē/ἀρχή and telos/τέλος, usually translated “the beginning archē/ἀρχή and the end telos/τέλος with which Revelation refers to God and Jesus.  Revelation uses the term archē/ἀρχή in 3:14, referring to Jesus as the archē/ἀρχή of God’s creation.  Revelation uses both terms archē/ἀρχή and telos/τέλος (along with the First and the Last) in 21:6, as a title for God and (along with the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last) in 22:13, as a title for Jesus. Surely, Revelation is not suggesting that God had a “beginning,” so John must be referring to the process which has the beginning or archē/ἀρχή, namely, “God’s creation” (3:14).  For the author of Revelation, God and Jesus WERE the beginning or archē/ἀρχή of the process of creation.  The beginning or archē/ἀρχή also, in a sense, CONTAINED them.  It is enlightening to examine such entelechial terminology to see how it helps to explain the Apocalypse as well as John’s Gospel (and other New Testament books).  Aristotle coined this extremely significant term:  entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια.  We know that Aristotle coined the word, because it does not exist in Plato’s writings or any time earlier.  In Implicit Rhetoric:  Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy (pp. 40-41), based on a study of Aristotle’s use of the term, I define Aristotle’s term entelechy/entelecheia as:


[T]he started-but-not-completed (atelēs) process of changing (primarily in a kinēsis sense) a substance, object, or being (in one of Aristotle's senses of changing) from what it was into what it by nature (phusis) should become (i.e., its telos or purpose)--which process is characterized by the condition that the substance, object, or being possesses (in one of the four senses of echein) within itself (en-) implicitly the fully-developed goal or end (telos) toward which the change (kinēsis) is progressing explicitly.

Granted, I have just given you a lot of information to unpack, so let me take it bit by bit.  I will return to this definition frequently, as I continue to explain entelechy/entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια and how Aristotle’s concept helps to understand the Gospel According to John, which I perceive as the Gospel According to Entelechy.  However, for the time being, let’s just consider the seed example and see how this “earthly thing” helps us to understand what John calls “heavenly things.” 

1.      A seed, once it begins to grow has “started-but-not-completed [the] process of changing” from a seed into roots, stalks, leaves, and future grains.  Once the process is “completed” (i.e., once the plant has grown to complete maturity, or telos/τέλος), the entelechy is over.  It is no longer an entelechy, but each seed that has been produced in the previous entelechy is now capable of starting a brand new entelechy (growing roots, stalks, leaves, and more future grains).

2.      Nevertheless, all roots, stalks, leaves, and future grains are already “implicit” in the original seed that was originally planted, even though each stage or part will not become an “explicit” stage or part until sometime later.

3.      The “one of Aristotle's [four] senses of changing” that is involved in the seed entelechy is the sense of “growth” (or, as Aristotle describes it, a “positive” change of “substance” or “form”).  Aristotle’s word for form, here, is morphê, from which we get our word “metamorphosis” as when a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly.  The seed is constantly morphing into a full-grown plant.

4.      The seed develops “by nature” into what it “by nature” is destined to become (“its telos or purpose)—the full-grown plant with its own seeds.  It is a “wheat” seed, so “by nature” it cannot develop into an oak tree.  Its future form was “implicit” in the original wheat seed before it was planted and began the “process” of growing.

5.      Therefore, we can say that the wheat seed “possesses within itself (en-) implicitly the fully-developed goal or end (telos) toward which the change (kinēsis) is progressing explicitly.”


Application of Entelechy to Logos in John


Think of the archē/ἀρχή of the Creation entelechy in terms of the “process” that was “started-but-not-completed” from John’s perspective.  We, of course, might look forward to a subsequent entelechy (a new creation, with a new heavens and new earth, in Revelation), but considering the original Creation entelechy, certain elements clearly existed implicitly in the process of Creation.  Among those elements that clearly existed in the archē/ἀρχή of Creation were God and His Word (Logos).  By His Word, everything was created:  He spoke everything into existence.

This is not to say that either God or His Word were NOT in existence BEFORE the beginning of the Creation process.  Both God and Jesus identify themselves as “I AM,” implicitly indicating the eternally “present,” as opposed to “past” or “future.”  God is “implicit” in His Word; His Word is “implicit” in God.  You can’t have one without the other.  They don’t disagree or conflict with each other.  Here is absolute monotheism.  Definitionally, God and his Word/Spirit are one and the same.

The end telos/τέλος or purpose of creation was also implicit.  God had a “purpose” (telos) in creating the world.  (This is not to say that either God or His Word will NOT be in existence AFTER the end of the Creation process.)  Even inventors and home builders have a “purpose” in what they make.  The “purpose” of the inventor of the clock was to “keep time.”  This does not mean that the inventor was not in existence BEFORE he began to invent the clock.  Nor does it mean that he was not in existence AFTER the clock was invented.  Likewise, God and his Word (Logos) were in existence BEFORE they began the process of creating the world and will be AFTER it is destroyed, according to Revelation.

The entelechy, then, that John had in mind as he wrote, was, most likely, the “creation” entelechy as signaled by Revelation 3:14.  This would not be news to Christians of the last two thousand years.  We have thought, all along, by translating the first two words of John (ἐν ἀρχῇ) as “In the Beginning” that we were referring to the same subject matter as our translation of the first word of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית) “In the Beginning.”  What IS news is that John may well be focused on the entire entelechy (from beginning to end) when he uses the words ἐν ἀρχῇ.  In an entelechy, the end (telos) is implicit in the beginning and the beginning (ἀρχῇ) is implicit in the end (telos).  What’s more, everything in-between (such as roots, stalks, leaves, etc. in the seed analogy) is implicit in both the beginning (ἀρχῇ) and the end (telos).  That’s why entelechy is Aristotle’s term to “describe any process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end implicit throughout the process.”

If John is (either consciously or unconsciously) relying on Aristotle’s entelechy/entelecheia/ἐντέλεχεια in his use of the phrase ἐν ἀρχῇ, the eventuality of the Word-becoming-flesh is also implicit in the ἀρχῇ.  Also included in the ἀρχῇ will be every single step/development of the entire entelechy, so that, for example, reference to “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) makes sense, entelechially.  Also making sense entelechially are verses such as the following:

·         Ephesians 1:4: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.”

·         John 17:24: “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

·         I Peter 1:20: “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times.”

·         Matthew 25:34: “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

·         Matthew 13:35: “I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

·         II Timothy 1:9:grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

·         Hebrews 9:26:  “He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

·         Acts 15:18:  "Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

My goal (telos) in the entelechy of this blogpost series is to challenge you to be thinking entelechially, when reading John.  I surmise that John’s original audience consisted of a number of deep thinkers.  You may or may not think of yourself as one, even though farmers and mothers are often far more familiar with the biological/earthly things with which Jesus compares the heavenly than are university professors of theology or philosophy.  Nevertheless, when I suggested, in the previous blogpost, that John’s Gospel was, like Matthew, Mark, and Luke, of an extremist nature, I did not mean to suggest that we should shy away from attempting to develop the extreme faith lauded by John, any more than I would suggest that we shy away from the extreme righteousness lauded by Matthew or the extreme self-denial lauded by Mark or the extreme voluntary impoverishment lauded by Luke.  We should, rather, seek to grow (an entelechial process) in all these areas.  Certainly, as your children attending public schools and universities are constantly exposed to the deep philosophies of Satan, you owe it to them to study deeper, yourselves.  Deeply-rooted parents are the last, best hope of your children.  More of the Gospel According to Entelechy to come, next time.

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