The Philosophers (Part 5): Heraclitus

We continue The Philosophers series. If you’ve not been following please go to You have a lot of catching up to do.

We’ve been examining the philosophical context of scriptures in order to see the issues the apostles grappled with. They were responding to issues of their day, they weren’t just writing letters. Who does that!

In those letters the apostles addressed questions from different church groups, elucidating the radical notion that’s come to be known as “Christianity”. It wasn’t always called “Christianity.” The “sect” was originally called “The Way,” which is rather inelegant and promises to be confusing were an advert to be placed in Roman Times or Jerusalem Guardian – “The Way invites you to join us for Sunday service at 9am at The Way. Come and join The Way if you want to know the way!” Acts 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22. The other branding attempt was “Nazarenes.” Acts 24:5. The problem with that of course is that it can’t travel. God had a global vision for Christianity. Besides, how would the people of Nazareth feel if every Iyabo, Garuba and Chukwu claimed to be Nazarene? These people can hardly locate Nazareth on the map! And they are NOT Nazarenes obviously.

From a branding perspective whoever came up with the term, “Christianity” or “Christian” deserves an award. We know the person was from Lagos, sorry Antioch; or at least lived in Antioch. Might even have been a tourist, but no matter. The name works. Acts 11:26. He or she is the earliest example of a brand consultant. The word “Christian” is the Greek term “Christianos.” It means “Like the anointed one” or “Follower of the Anointed.”

And talking about branding, in case you haven’t noticed madness is a brand. There’s such a thing as intellectual madness. Porcius Festus, a Roman treasury officer had famously said to Paul, “You’re out of your mind! All this great learning of yours is driving you crazy.” Acts 26:24.

There are some brilliant guys on the looney side. A very thin line separates genius from insanity. The philosopher we’re about to examine should ordinarily give one cause for concern. But he was a brilliant fellow so let’s forgive him. His name is Heraclitus. He was born about 535 BC, in Ephesus. We really can’t be sure about that date, it’s just an educated guess. His father was a powerful political figure in Ephesus. (Ephesus was located in modern day Turkey). But Heraclitus would have none of all that political stuff and he abdicated his honorific title to his brother. Heraclitus claimed to have taught himself everything he knew. He was a child prodigy, probably one those kids you found annoying in secondary school – the type who cried over 96% when you’re rejoicing you scored 40%. He was a complete loner who had an aristocratic disdain for the masses. Not sure he really liked anyone. In his shrill voice he poured scorn on everyone, including the Persian leader, Darius. As brilliant as Pythagoras was… You remember him don’t you? The Pythagoras theorem guy… Well, Heraclitus said he “lacked understanding.” Even the celebrity poet, Homer was not spared. Heraclitus said he deserved to be beaten. The guy was crazy. He was a misanthrope, didn’t like people. He deliberately made his teachings difficult and unclear. It’s why they called him “The Obscure.” To put things in perspective, the Nobel literary Laureate, Wole Soyinka is also called obscure, but he had nothing on Heraclitus. His other nickname was “The Dark” – I mean Heraclitus, not Wole Soyinka. The Dark is an interesting nickname actually – The Dark! Sounds like a movie title.

Unsurprisingly Heraclitus suffered from depression. He was called the “Weeping Philosopher.” He would wander the mountains eating only grass and herbs. His vision soon became impaired as he wandered the wilderness. He also developed edema. True to form he self-medicated. His idiosyncratic treatment was a liniment of cow manure and baking in the sun – perhaps to dry out the water that accumulated in his body. He died within twenty-four hours of that self-prescribed treatment.

Why is this man important to us, why are we interested in him? It’s because of our dear Apostle John. In trying to label him “Apostle of love” we probably missed his literary value. No other writer apart from Paul contributed more to the New Testament. Apostle John wrote three letters, a history text book, and that most bizarre of all books – the eschatology called Revelation. But we’re not going to talk about Revelation today. Some other time. What we’re interested in is John’s history book – the Book of John. That book was written to prove the divinity of Jesus. Such a book is called “high Christology.” Christology is the study of Christ. A high Christology emphasizes or starts with the divinity of Jesus, then proceeds to treat his humanity. A “low Christology” emphasizes or starts with his humanity.

John sought to establish 6 things in the opening paragraph of his book:
a. Jesus predates the material world
b. Jesus is eternal
c. Jesus coexisted with God
d. Jesus is God
e. Jesus created the universe
f. Jesus was that creator in Genesis

The opening line in the book is intriguing. It’s what ties John to Heraclitus. John had written: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was fully God. The Logos was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created” John 1:1-3. It’s that word, “logos” we’re interested in. Turns out Heraclitus was very much interested in that word too. In fact among Greek philosophers he was the first to use the term. In Greek the term “logos” ordinarily means “word,” “speech,” “principle,” or “thought.” But what did Heraclitus mean by it, how did he use it? This question is important because John adopted the usage by Heraclitus.

Heraclitus conceived the Logos as a universal principle that orders the universe inherently and regulates its phenomena. As Heraclitus saw it the cosmos is constantly changing and the Logos is the organising principle of change – a divine principle, an eternal word that transcends the world of mortals. (Can you feel John 1:1-4?). Not everyone understands this “logos” thing Heraclitus asserted: “The Law (of the universe) is as here explained; but men are always incapable of understanding it, both before they hear it, and when they have heard it for the first time.”

The truth though is that it’s difficult to explain. It’s an abstract concept. It would seem like some sort of law, like gravity, or any of the basic laws regulating the universe.

The intellectual leap John made was that this “logos” Heraclitus spoke about is not just some “principle,” but actually a personage, and that his name is Jesus. Interestingly Paul had echoed the same sentiments in his letter to the Hebrews. He was very square with Heraclitus: “He (Jesus) holds the universe together and expands it by the mighty power of his spoken word.” Hebrews 1:3. He went further in his letter to Colossians: “We look at the Son and we see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and we see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels – everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before anything came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.” Colossians 1:15-18 MSG.

Paul somehow captured what Heraclitus was struggling with. In fact as you read the writings of Paul you get the sense he seemed to know what the philosophers were struggling to apprehend. He brought closure to their thoughts. But Paul didn’t stop there. Yes, he was able to give substance to what Heraclitus was saying but then he took things even further. The Logos to Heraclitus regulated the material universe. Paul extended that regulatory protocol to spiritual universe. And he said the Logos also regulated the spiritual federation called the Church: “…Everything got started in him (Jesus) and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it up together right at this moment. AND when it comes to the church, he organises and holds it together, like a head does a body.” Colossians 1:15-18. The reason the church cannot splinter into bits, the reason the church has endured for millennia despite negative political forces constantly acting on it is because Jesus the Logos holds it together. The gates of hell cannot prevail. Matthew 16:18.

There’s a principle of order in the church. Things must therefore be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40. There is an organising principle. The church is an intentionality. It is governed by an embedded regulatory protocol.
One last thought. Jesus is the head, we are the body. We are in essence the body of the Logos himself. That has to have some big implications. Think about it.

If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”

© Leke Alder |

A very thin line separates genius from insanity. Click To Tweet The reason the church has endured for millennia despite negative political forces constantly acting on it is because Jesus the Logos holds it together. The gates of hell cannot prevail. Matthew 16:18. Click To Tweet