Two years into my relationship with Jesus, someone handed me a book by Kenneth E. Hagin. Five minutes and two pages later, the book grabbed and held my attention until I read its last word. Over the following six months, I found Hagin’s books exceedingly helpful in illuminating many key New Testament concepts. After three years, I had read every Kenneth Hagin book in print. I noted that his works, while full of Scripture, contained a great deal of anecdotal material. In other words, Hagin consistently couched his teachings in personal stories. This writing style set in motion two separate phenomena.
First, it made Hagin’s books exceptionally reader friendly. This allowed the power contained therein to spread across the world to a wide audience. His anecdotal style also unintentionally placed Hagin as a favorite target on the scholarly, criticism-driven firing range. While pursuing an advanced theology degree, I recurrently witnessed the charge of “non-scholarly” cavalierly hurled at Hagin’s works. I grew weary of the assertion that “Kenneth Hagin simply does nothing more than write about personal experiences.” This misconception led to an attack on his hallmark teaching: the “Rhema word.” How could a man lacking a formal theology degree sway so many believers concerning a technical Greek term? Furthermore, how could he build a worldwide ministry on such a foundation? First of all, Hagin never presented himself as a Greek scholar. Throughout a lengthy ministry career, he remained completely honest and humble regarding his educational status. Whenever Hagin discussed Greek vocabulary, he would always note his sources.
Secondly, I perceived that he had tremendous insight from God. God most assuredly knows Greek better than anyone else. He can certainly teach someone—even those without seminary degrees—regarding the truth impregnated in the language. I thoroughly believe that He did just that with Kenneth Hagin. His anecdotes shine like a star in the often unnecessarily overly cloudy sky of formal theology. Although Hagin never wrote a deeply “scholarly” treatise, he did for us something remarkable: displayed theology in real life. Therefore, I respectfully dedicate this article to Kenneth E. Hagin.
Throwing down Greek words in order to prop up popular theological presuppositions has become a favorite tactic of many preachers. Sadly, most employing this method hide their lack of Greek language skills under the cloak of “super pastor.” In other words, people blindly swallow arguments based on a grave mishandling of Greek vocabulary. After all, anyone leading a large scale ministry “must know what he is talking about.” While such leaders may possess a passel of legitimate giftings, a true understanding of Greek does not automatically come as a standard accessory. Knowing how to use Strong’s Concordance remains a far cry from a thorough grasp of Greek.
Far too often, Christian celebrities pass off major theological assumptions based on computer software at best and third hand information at worst. Thus, eminence in one realm (preaching or organization leadership) produces blindness to incompetence in another (language skills). Along these lines, a few Greek words have made it to the top of the list. In such cases, Greek terms are juxtaposed and forced into molds not fitting their native shape. For example, when describing the concept of time, preachers frequently make a great deal of chronos and kairos. Without question, discerning the distinction of these two terms uncovers great truths. Nevertheless, I have heard entire sermons—in one instance, an entire sermon series—based on a misapplication of chronos and kairos. What about the heavyweight words logos and rhema? Do the similarities and contrasts present in these two words contain theological gold? How do these terms, each most often translated “word,” interact with one another? What does that interplay tell us about living out the New Testament on a daily basis?
Let us first carefully examine both logos and rhema individually. This will provide a far greater understanding of how these words interact with each other. In order to properly grasp a word’s meaning, one must study it from a diachronic (meaning as developed over time) perspective. For example, tracing the development of the word translated “soul” through the Old Testament, pre New Testament Greek, and into the New Testament itself affords one a much richer understanding of the term. By following this course of action, one can witness the term expanding in order to accommodate a progressing theology which reaches its zenith in the New Testament. I have employed this principle of study to both logos and rhema.
Next, one must realize that words have different meanings in different contexts. For example, the English word “pot” signifies several concepts in varying settings. To the gardener, it means “a receptacle in which to place plants.” To the chef, it means “a container for cooking lobsters.” The same principle holds true regarding words in the New Testament. In addition, different New Testament authors use the same Greek words in slightly different ways. Personal writing styles, cultural backgrounds, and particular audiences all account for such differences. Truly engaging in a meaningful word study requires intellectual and spiritual blood, sweat, and tears. However, the treasure one uncovers proves well worth the digging. God provided both the logos and rhema for our benefit. We will only benefit from what we apply. However, we cannot fully apply what we do not properly understand.
In the ancient Greek world, the word logos became a favorite term within a large scope of emerging sciences. For example, more than four hundred years before Jesus’ birth, “grammar, logic, rhetoric, psychology, theology, and mathematics” all employed it as a key term. In the context of the disciplines mentioned above, logos came, in general, to mean “an expression for the ordered and harmonious purposiveness present in the universe” In addition to sciences, for several centuries, competing Greek philosophers marshaled the term to prop up a dizzying array of ideas. In this process, the term’s meaning became at once both manifold and slightly contradictory. Its essence got tangled in the wrapping and buried in the catalogue of fanciful philosophical arguments. In short, logos conveyed the concept of a universal force which enlivens and gives shape to the entire material realm. This force “bestows on man the power of knowledge and thence moral behavior.” Of course, in a more common usage, the word meant “a means of communicating an idea.”
To the New Testament writers, logos took on a higher meaning than an impersonal, cold, and overriding influence. The term, used 331 times, jumps from the pages of every book except Philemon and Jude. It conveys “a spoken expression of thought.” Some have held to the erroneous position that “logos means written Word and rhema means spoken Word.” In certain contexts, this proves true. However, logos often signifies the spoken Word. In fact, legw the word meaning “to speak” resides in direct semantic proximity to logos. One can voice such an expression by way of a statement (Lk 20:20); a question (Mat 21:24); a prayer (Mat 26:44); a command (2 Pet 3:7); a letter (2 Thes 3:14); preaching (1 Tim 5:17); teaching (Lk 4:32; Acts 2:41); or prophecy (Jn 2:22).
Many times, New Testament writers employ logos to mean God’s written Word. For example, a portion of the Ten Commandments (Mat 15:6); God’s promises (Rom 9:9); the whole law (Rom 13:9); the sword of the Spirit (Heb 4:12)—a title also given to rhema in Eph 6:17; the preaching of Jesus (Lk 5:1); divine seed (Lk 8:11); the four gospels (Col 3:16); and the “word of faith” (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9;2 Tim 2:11). On rare occasions, logos connotes the idea of “giving an account.” This idea surfaces in both Romans 13:12 and Matthew 12:36. In addition to the uses mentioned above, logos means “the personification of God.” John conveys this truth in his gospel, epistle, and Revelation. With the incarnation, we have, the Logos (God Himself) becoming flesh and “pitching his tent” among us (Jn 1:1,14). The “Logos of Life” whose name is the “Logos of God” came and boldly proclaimed Himself (1 Jn 1:1; Rev 19:13).
In the pre-New Testament Greek world, the Old Testament, and the New Testament, rhema stands as a much less complex word than logos. In no way does this lack of complexity amount to a lack of potency. Particularly in the New Testament, rhema conveys a very precise, power-heavy concept. The ancient Greeks used rhema to signify the spoken word. In fact, the term “rhetor” used to mean an “orator” or “public speaker” sprang from rhema. In time, “rhetor” gave birth to the English term “rhetoric.” In his work on grammar, Aristotle notes that rhemaserves as a verb and not a noun. This reveals an insistence regarding rhema being used for “actively speaking” words.
New Testament writers use rhema a total of 67 times with heavy usage in both Luke and Acts (32 times) and John’s Gospel (12 times). Throughout the New Testament, the term means “a spoken word, saying, or expression.” It can refer to common, non-spiritual speech. For example, the telling forth that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens (Acts 16:38). Conversely, rhema often stands in connection to prophetic fulfillment (Matt 26:75; Mk 9:32; 14:72; Lk 1:38; 2:29; 18:34; 22:61; Acts 11:16). We see the same usage, to a striking degree, in the Septuagint.
The idea of speaking a command also frequently finds expression in rhema. This occurs in both the creation and upholding of the cosmos. Indeed, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command (rhema), so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Heb 11:3). Now, Jesus “the Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command (rhema)” (Heb 1:3). We see Christ’s exercising this command over nature with a miraculous catch of fish. Peter shifts from reluctance to obedience by stating, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. Nevertheless, in response to your command (rhema), I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5). On other occasions, rhema connotes “an event” (Lk 1:37; Matt 18:16). Although much less common, its usage for “an event” provides an additional case for the “active” aspect of rhema.
The light shed from studying both rhema and logos individually also greatly illuminates their collective power. These two words both remain inseparable and work best together. Some people misunderstand the statement that “A rhema word is a fresh word.” This statement is true. However, people sometimes use it to attribute a lack of freshness to logos. Freshness implies life while staleness signifies death. God’s logos will always remain “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). The fire of a true rhema word must burn on the fuel of a logos word. The speaking of a rhema word occurs first by the Holy Spirit. He takes the already spoken (and written down) logos and speaks it to the believer. This “event” provides a fresh revelation within the context of one’s current life situation. For example, if one faces an attack of illness upon their physical body, the Spirit-empowered rhema speaks “by his wounds, you were healed”(1 Pet 2:24). This means that consistently reading the peerless written Word (logos) provides fuel for the Spirit to ignite a burning word (rhema).
Rest assured, the best way to receive more rhema words is to spend more time in the logos. After receiving a rhema word, the believer then has a choice. Will he speak a rhema word from his own mouth or allow circumstances to short circuit the process? Remember, rhema also has to do with “fulfilled prophecy.” God wants to fulfill his logos in every believer. One must not allow circumstances to bring derailment. Adversity provides an opportunity for agreement with God by speaking out the rhema already spoken by the Spirit.
When a believer receives a rhema word, he has every right to repeat it with fierce boldness. He can stand with confidence on the strongest foundation possible: a spoken word based on the written Word. This produces great faith in the heart of a believer. However, this faith can either die or soar. If one allows difficulties to speak louder than the rhema, a lack of corresponding action will cause faith to die. If, however, the believer speaks with his own mouth the already spoken rhema, faith will begin to soar. Interestingly, in more than one place, Scripture pairs rhema with the believer’s mouth. Indeed, “the word (rhema) is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming” (Rom 10:8). The very personification of logos has a sword coming out of his mouth (Rev 19:15). His followers also, have a “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word (rhema) of God” (Eph 6:17). Start speaking rhema and begin seeing the fulfillment of his logos in your life!