Christians may be familiar with the word logos featured in John 1. Logos means “word,” referring to Christ himself, or the holy word of Scripture. But another word in the New Testament refers to the word “word” as in “spoken word” known as rhema. As mentioned in the Compelling Truth article linked, verses such as Luke 5:5 refer to the “rhema” as the spoken words of Jesus.
Why do we make a distinction between the logos and the rhema?
In the modern church, some charismatic denominations of Christianity emphasize the importance of rhema when referring to the Holy Spirit speaking to them now, at a present moment. In essence, through people, or through prayer, people can hear God speaking to their particular circumstance or situation, whereas the logos, Scripture, and Christ himself, speak to us in a more universal sense.
The controversial split of the true mean of rhema versus logos often happens between charismatic and evangelical denominations. Evangelical denominations see logos and rhema as essentially synonymous.
This article will not endeavor to pick or choose between the two viewpoints. But rather, will present the two views of the Rhema word and discuss why either viewpoint matters to us as Christians today.
The Charismatic View of the Rhema Word
According to this article in Charisma Magazine, the rhema word can happen when you’re reading a particular passage of Scripture, perhaps one you have seen many times before, and you see it in a new light and see how it applies to your life personally.
For instance, many of us have read Psalm 23. But maybe during the reading of the verse, the valley of the shadow of death section jumped out at you. Maybe a loved one in your family (this is a real and personal experience that happened to my family recently) is on the verge of passing away, and the verse helped you see the next steps of her eternity in a new light.
That’s the rhema word. You see how Scripture’s universal truths apply to your life personally.
According to the article, two steps to receive the rhema word from God, from God speaking directly to you through his word, is by admitting your sins, known and unknown, and committing fully to him.
Logos under this viewpoint is the communication process. In essence, God communicates through Scripture, through Christ, etc. via logos. Rhema, on the other hand, is God communicating personally to us, through the Spirit’s voice in our hearts. God speaks to us through the rhema word, according to this view.
Depending on the charismatic tradition, some Christians believe the rhema can be spoken through a preacher as well as a mentoring Christian friend. In essence, God can speak through these people, like he spoke through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1) to convict us, set our hearts on fire, directly guide us about a proper course of action to a particular decision or life circumstance.
The Evangelical View of the Rhema Word
As mentioned before, many evangelicals do not draw much of a distinction between the words logos and rhema.
As discussed in the article above, Evangelicals may believe that the Bible is silent on many particulars, but we can look to the absolutes to determine the best course of action.
For instance, let’s say I want to break my COVID-19 self-quarantine to go out to a beach or other venue that is still open with friends. I know that even though I don’t display the COVID-19 symptoms that I could still be carrying the virus unknowingly and putting either my friends or someone else I come into contact with. I know that my governmental authorities have told me to remain inside, but the Bible doesn’t have any verses on “Thou shalt not break your two-week quarantine from the COVID-19 virus.”
However, the Bible does say that I should treat others how I want to be treated (Luke 6:31) and that I shall not kill (Deuteronomy 5:17). And Scripture says to obey governmental authorities unless they ask me to do something that goes against my Christian beliefs (Romans 13).
Therefore, by applying these absolutes, I can know in my particular situation that going out would be wrong because it would treat others not how I’d want to be treated, endanger lives, and disobey governmental authority.
Why Does This Matter?
Although debate has sparked over the difference between the logos and the rhema, we know that God speaks to us in many ways, most often through Scripture. Whether we hear a powerful sermon or read a verse in a new light, God will find a way to communicate to us.
Scripture may not always provide answers to particulars in our lives, but whether a passages jump out to us via the Spirit speaking to our hearts, or we apply absolutes to a particular situation, we can exercise godly living in an often-confused world.
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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) Den (releasing July 2020), Dear Hero (releasing September 2020), and Dear Henchman (releasing 2021) Find out more about her here.