According to etymonline on «word»: The meaning "promise" was in Old English, as was the theological sense.

Does Greek «λόγος», as in John 1:1, also have the meaning "promise"?

Edit: This is relevant to English, for there are such derived words as «logocentric».

Edit 2: https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=logos

  • If there are no instances of «λόγος» meaning "promise" in the Bible, I think it's very unlikely we got that meaning from the Greek.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Apr 14 at 14:46
  • 2
    This would appear to be a question about Greek, not English. Greek is dealt with at Latin Language. Commented Apr 14 at 15:04
  • @PeterShor The term «λόγος» has been very central in Christian theology, and to the point that one often encounters the term «logocentric theology» - in English.
    – Frode Alfson Bjørdal
    Commented Apr 14 at 15:08
  • @AndrewLeach Greek is not a Latin language.
    – Frode Alfson Bjørdal
    Commented Apr 14 at 15:08
  • @AndrewLeach Edit: This is relevant to English, for there are such derived words as «logocentric».
    – Frode Alfson Bjørdal
    Commented Apr 14 at 15:10

2 Answers 2


The way to answer this question is not to look at English dictionaries, nor to look at the Bible, but to look at Greek dictionaries.

The entry for λόγος in Liddell and Scott has ten subsections, with meanings ranging from word, speech, debate, narrative, reason, and computation. However, the word promise does not appear in their entry for λόγος. Thus, it seems that the meaning "promise" comes from Old English and does not have anything to do with Greek.

Furthermore, Wort in German and ord in Norwegian both also mean "promise," so it seems very likely that this meaning was present in the common ancestor of English, German, and Norwegian. This common ancestor language had split into Old Norse and Old German several centuries before their speakers converted to Christianity, so it seems rather unlikely that the meaning "promise" originated with the Bible.

  • Many thanks for your methodology! As you state, word is one of the meanings listed in Liddell and Scott. This raises the question as to whether λόγος may have been used for promises, as in many languages, on occasions: English. Norwegian, Portuguese, Germans ... If the answer is in the affirmative, it may be that λόγος already had promise as a meaning at the time, and places, of the Gospels, and it would explain why "word" already in Old English had «the meaning "promise" ..., as was the theological sense.» as per my first link. Commented Apr 14 at 17:27
  • I accepted your answer, although I, as indicated in the previous comment, do not agree that it justifies that «the meaning "promise" comes from Old English and does not have anything to do with Greek.» But your answer helps to see useful connections which I, on the contrary, think may justify the point of view that λόγος indeed did have promise as one of its meaning. Commented Apr 14 at 17:34

From the OED:


Cognate with Old Frisian word (West Frisian wurd), Old Dutch wort (Middle Dutch wort, word, Dutch woord), Old Saxon word (Middle Low German wort), Old High German wort (Middle High German wort, German Wort), Old Icelandic orð, Old Swedish orþ (Swedish ord), Old Danish orth (Danish ord), Gothic waurd, all denoting both ‘an utterance’ and ‘an element or unit of speech, a word’ < the same Indo-European base as Lithuanian vardas name, forename, title, Latvian vārds word, forename, promise, classical Latin verbum word, showing an extended form of the Indo-European base of ancient Greek ῥήτωρ (earlier ϝρήτωρ) speaker, (Epic and Ionic) ἐρέω (earlier ϝερέω; Attic ἐρῶ) I shall say, and perhaps also Sanskrit vrata behest, command.

Word is thus a translation of the Greek λόγος, and not related to it.

  • If «word» were a translation of Greek «λόγος», the words would be related. Notice also that the quote from OED does not support the conclusion that «word» is a translation of Greek «λόγος». Commented Apr 14 at 15:56
  • 'Related' obviously defaults to the subsense 'in the etymological sense' here. Commented Apr 14 at 16:00
  • @EdwinAshworth I don't understand. Commented Apr 14 at 16:03
  • @Frode Alfson Bjørdal Translations of words often aren't etymologically related. Greybeard is simplifying the deducible 'etymologically related' to 'related' in his final sentence. (And trivially, all words are related at a basic level.) Commented Apr 14 at 18:41

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