August 15, 2007

logikos Doesn't Mean "Spiritual"

John at Locusts and Honey is wondering where the NASB's translation of 1 Peter 2:2 ("long for the pure milk of the word") came from, as compared with the NRSV which has (like many other modern translations) "long for the pure, spiritual milk." The NASB translation led John to suppose correctly that some reference to logos was present in this verse, and I'm sure that's exactly what the NASB translators intended in translating logikos as "of the word." This is precisely what the Greek suffix ikos (from which we get "ic") does: it forms an adjective meaning "having to do with." Now, the thesis of this post is that that word doesn't mean "spiritual."

Now, I confess to being biased by my background in classical philosophy: in Plato and Aristotle (and friends) the word certainly means "reasonable" or "rational" or "intellectual" or, occasionally, "linguistic," but never "spiritual." However, there is a good explanation of why logikos is often translated "spiritual" and that is given in BDAG (the big New Testament/ante-Nicene lexicon): BDAG (I'm working with the second edition; I don't have the third to compare) cites some examples, all of them questionable, for the reading "spiritual," and most of these rest on conflating the faculty of reason with the spirit - something Paul, at least, would never do (though other writers might). However, more importantly, BDAG says "it is to be borne in mind that logikos means spiritual ... also in contrast to 'literal' with the meaning 'metaphorical.'" I hope at some point to write a whole post on the contrast between logos (as in "the Word became flesh") and rhema (as in "the word spoken through the prophet"), but for now suffice it to say that rhema means a specific form of words, whereas logos means "the intelligible content of speech or writing" or some such. Mystical interpreters of Scripture, such as Origen, used the word logikos to describe the inner, mystical meaning found in the metaphorical content of a passage, as opposed to the literal, or rhematikos (I don't think they actually use that Greek word, but it is a real word) sense. Hence it means "spiritual" - that is, related to the deep, inner truth of a thing. I guess "spiritual" sort of means that...

Really, however, the word means "reasonable," "rational," "intellectual," or perhaps "linguistic." What the Origen example shows is that it also means "related to content" (as opposed to form). It simply doesn't mean "spiritual" in the sense I get from this English translation. It only means "spiritual" in the sense mentioned above which, I claim, is not a normal meaning of the English word "spiritual."

Two places where this is important are Romans 12:1 and 1 Peter 2:2, the verse John mentioned. In connection with Romans 12:1, BDAG does cite some previous examples of the phrase "reasonable act of service" (or "spiritual worship" in some translations), including Philo who says that God desires "the sacrifice of a rational spirit" rather than animal sacrifices. Perhaps the idea is that these other uses of logikos derive from that one?

At any rate, Romans 12:1 is correctly translated by the NKJV (following the original KJV), "your reasonable service." The central idea of that passage is that, when you consider the mercies of God, the only reasonable thing to do is to offer your body as a living sacrifice. Logikos. Reasonable.

In 1 Peter 2:2 things are somewhat more difficult, but my point still stands. The translations "of the Word," especially with a capital W, may be a bit much for St. Peter (if it was St. John I wouldn't hesitate), but "reasonable" or "rational" remains the correct translation: the milk we desire is milk for our reason as opposed to milk for our bodies. The translation "spiritual" also has the drawback that it conflates logikos with pneumatikos, which actually does mean "spiritual" and appears in v. 5.

These are, incidentally, the only NT occurences of this word.

Now, I must confess that I have departed somewhat here from the principles of humility and charity I normally try (with varying degrees of success) to follow in disagreeing with Bible translations by simply insisting that these translations are wrong, despite the fact that most modern translations agree, but I just can't see how logikos could possibly take this meaning. The evidence in BDAG mostly consists of these two references (the rest of the citations are either obscure, much later than the NT, or secondary articles, with the already mentioned exception of Philo). Furthermore, BDAG's arguments generally connect the meaning "spiritual" with the meaning "suitable to a creature endowed with reason" or some such, which makes it seem to me to be a misunderstanding of English rather than of Greek. ("Spiritual" doesn't mean that!) By contrast, the meaning I am talking about has dozens of citations in LSJ, from Plato and earlier to Plutarch (a contemporary of the New Testament) and later. Why invent new meanings when the most well-attested central meanings of the words can account for all the evidence?

On the other hand, it is only recent translations, for the most part, that have this translation, and they rely, I'm sure, mostly on BDAG3. Is there new evidence in BDAG3 that I'm missing?

So I suppose, John, that I'm in the opposite situation from you: I can't figure out where all the modern translations got the idea that it means "spiritual" instead of "of the word" (i.e. "rational"). Maybe if you tell me why you thought the NRSV's translation was closer to the Greek, then we'll both be able to figure out what's going on.

Posted by Kenny at August 15, 2007 9:29 PM
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This is somewhat to the side of the main thrust of your post, but "logikon" does not occur in Plato.

Posted by: Eleatic Ephesian at August 16, 2007 12:01 AM

I just double-checked, and you are in fact correct. I was misled by not reading LSJ closely enough. Definition II.2 has "dialectical, argumentative, hoi logikois dialogoi of Plato, such as the Theaetetus and Cratylus." The citations is Diogenes Laertius. So apparently Plato doesn't actually use the word, but it is used by Laertius to describe certain of his works. Plato uses logos and its derivatives so frequently that I never thought to look closely into this. Thanks for the correction. At any rate, we all know it's in Aristotle (to logikon zoon).

Posted by: Kenny at August 16, 2007 8:07 AM

Thanks for the explanation, Kenny. I don't have BibleWorks with me, but I'll examine your proposal when I do.

Posted by: John at August 17, 2007 7:25 PM

Does the Septuagint(canonical or not) have it?

Posted by: R.J. at March 29, 2012 5:07 PM

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