Verbum & Sermo

In our last post we talked of people who had walked out doors to go further in! These are those who have been forced, by conscience or circumstances, to leave behind denominations, churches or groups whom they have considered to have abandoned Jesus and his teaching – but in so doing have been set free to climb to new heights in their Christian/Faith journey. However, there are others I see and listen to who have no desire to go further in – but have abandoned their faith all together. When I listen to folk like this, as sympathetically and as open mindedly as possible, most of the time I am left feeling that something has been fundamental misunderstood.  With a deep sadness I often suspect that from the very beginning of what they call their ‘Faith Journey’ or ‘Christian Conversion’ they have adopted a basic misunderstanding of what true ‘Faith’ or ‘Christianity’ is – or at least should be. And I am speaking here of some who, unlike me, are thologicall trained to a very high degree.

To address this problem I have to ask you to bear with me shortly as, for a few moments, as we address an issue which may seem a little high brow – but in fact, for me at least, helps to work through this issue. And it has to do with what we understand by the concept and term ‘The Word’ of God.

I, like many in the ‘Evangelical’ world was brought up with preachers who waved their Bibles from the pulpit declaring that – ‘this is the Word of God’. And so, like many in my tradition, I imbibed an almost mythical attitude of holiness, reverence and respect for the Bible. A good thing of course many will say. The problem however is that this can, very often, lead to an exclusively intellectual faith. Consequently, when faced with critical practical issues today, such as the suffering of innocents in our world (a biggie) – some choose to abandon their ‘faith’ altogether (and this is not rare) – as the Bible cannot, for them, offer a reasonable or acceptable explanation.

The truth is that this issue is institutional within my tradition – faith based on the intellect to the exclusion of the mystical, spiritual and emotional. How often have I been told never to trust my emotions in relation to matters of faith – as if emotion is something demonic and not God given. The result is that, for many in my tradition, there is no concept or experience of a mystical union or communion with a living, loving personal God  – but a faith that can only be understood by reason and the intellect. Consequently when these fail – faith also fails.

At least part of the problem here surrounds the historical translation of the Greed word ‘Logos’ (The Word) into Latin. Two words were used interchangeable here – but each with a different meaning. The first is ‘Sermo’ (from which we get our word sermon – living teaching) and the second ‘Verbum’ (an abstract principle or idea). Ron Dart notes –

‘The scholastics were very interested obviously in ‘Verbum’. Logos when translated into ‘Verbum’ meant essentially, the debate, the discussion, the dialogue over ideas. So then Christianity essentially shrinks to the level of getting ideas right – who understands best the nature of God – how can that be articulated in an abstract theology or how do you exegete the text so everyone gets the ideas precisely. ‘Logos’ ( translated as ‘Sermo’) is the presencing of that which is present – the Divine coming to us – the dynamic of God in Christ via the Spirit – calling us into our new life.’(1)

Verbum thinking is with us down to today – especially in what is know as the ‘Reformed Tradition’ in which I was brought up. Indeed, in most of these circles there is a fear of all things ‘Sermo’!

It was Erasmus (1466 – 1536), the Dutch philosopher and theologian who first (in more recent times) challenged the ‘Verbum’ Latin translation (in the Vulgate) (2) of the Greek ‘Logos’. ‘Erasmus championed that true religion was a matter of inward devotion rather than outward symbols of ceremony and ritual, and sought to reform aspects of the Church from within. His works showed an astonishing intelligence, razor-sharp wit, and an authentic love for God and humanity.’ (3)

We are invited by Jesus – not primarily to an intellectual faith (although the intellect is important of course), nor to subscribe to a list of abstract theological beliefs, nor to passive assent to a set of doctrines – but to a vibrant, emotional  relationship with a living person – the Living Word of  whom John speaks –

‘In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.

And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.’

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.’

John 1 NLT

I personally think it is quite clear that John is speaking above of an active, living, loving being – not an abstract concept or idea. How on earth did we ever come to any other conclusion?

While many consider the last book of the Bible (believed to have been authored by the same man) as written in relation to ‘End Times’ – the truth is it was in fact written to the church in his own day. In it it becomes very clear that some of these churches, as many today, had departed from the ‘faith’ and as a result we find Jesus standing outside the door of their gatherings. In one well known text he says this to the Church (and of course by default the individuals who made it up) –

‘Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.’

Revelation 3:20 NLT

Please note this is an invitation – not to a Bible Study, not to a Seminary, not even to a Church or Prayer Meeting – and certainly not to a philosophical discussion – but to a relaxed meal between friends. In other words Jesus desire – his longing, is relational not philosophical or merely intellectual! (4) How dare we reduce the desire of the Living Word to anything else!

‘The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.’

Psalm 27 NLT


1 – Ron Dart –

Ronald Samuel Dart Doctor of Ministry and Humanities  St. Stephen’s University (New Brunswick).

2 – A Latin version of the Bible authorised and used by the Roman Catholic Church.

3 –

4 – Of course this is not to say that the break in relationship originally was not caused by ambivalence in relation to the essentials of being true to Jesus and his teaching.


None of the above is to detract from the importance of the Bible. However to place the Bible on such a level so as to  ignore or detract from the Logos – the living Word, is complete madness. God is not an idea or a principle to be admired or dissected at the whim of man – but a living, dynamic being who calls us to relationship with himself.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply