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John 1:1 is the first verse in the Gospel of John. The King James Version of the verse reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". The phrase "the Word" (a translation of the Greek word "Logos") is widely interpreted as referring to Jesus, as indicated in other verses later in the same chapter. This verse and others throughout Johannine literature connect the Christian understanding of Jesus to the philosophical idea of the Logos and the Hebrew Wisdom literature. They also set the stage for later understanding development of Trinitarian theology early in the post-biblical era.
According to Matthew Henry (1662–1714) in his commentary, Jesus is called in this opening verse because he was the Son of God sent to earth to reveal his Father's mind to the world. A plain reading of the verse has John the Evangelist to be understanding the verse as proof that Jesus is God; that Jesus has been with and existed as God the Father from the very beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The proper rendering into English from the original Koine Greek text continues to be a source of vigorous debate among Bible translators.
|Koine Greek||Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεός ἦν ὁ Λόγος.|
|Greek transliteration||En archē ēn ho Lógos, kai ho Lógos ēn pros ton Theón, kai Theós ēn ho Lógos.|
|Greek to English||In beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (toward) the God, and God was the Word.|
|-------alternate Greek||(beginning: original, foundation, source, principle) (Word: reason, saying) (with: toward, facing)|
|Syriac Peshitta||ܒ݁ܪܺܫܺܝܬ݂ ܐܺܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܗ݈ܘܳܐ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ ܘܗܽܘ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ ܐܺܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܗ݈ܘܳܐ ܠܘܳܬ݂ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ ܘܰܐܠܳܗܳܐ ܐܺܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܗ݈ܘܳܐ ܗܽܘ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ ܀|
|Syriac transliteration||brīšīṯ ʾiṯa wā malṯā, whau malṯā ʾiṯa wā loṯ ʾalāhā wʾalāhā iṯa wā u malṯā|
|Sahidic Coptic||ϨΝ ΤЄϨΟΥЄΙΤЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝϬΙΠϢΑϪЄ, ΑΥШ ΠϢΑϪЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝΝΑϨΡΜ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ. ΑΥШ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ|
|Coptic transliteration||Hn teHoueite neFSoop nCi pSaJe auw pSaJe neFSoop nnaHrm pnoute auw neunoute pe pSaJe.|
|Latin Vulgate||In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum|
|Latin to English||In beginning was Word and Word was beside (alongside) God and God was Word.|
|-------alternate Latin||(beside: by, alongside, near, next to)|
The most common rendering in English is:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
“[It] is clear that in the translation “the Word was God,” the term God is being used to denote his nature or essence, and not his person. But in normal English usage “God” is a proper noun, referring to the person of the Father or corporately to the three persons of the Godhead. Moreover, “the Word was God” suggests that “the Word” and “God” are convertible terms, that the proposition is reciprocating. But the Word is neither the Father nor the Trinity… The rendering cannot stand without explanation.” Translations by James Moffatt, Hugh J. Schonfield and Edgar Goodspeed render part of the verse as "...and the Word was divine."
An Orthodox Bible Commentary notes: "This second theos could also be translated ‘divine’ as the construction indicates "a qualitative sense for theos". The Word is not God in the sense that he is the same person as the theos mentioned in 1:1a; he is not God the Father (God absolutely as in common NT usage) or the Trinity. The point being made is that the Logos is of the same uncreated nature or essence as God the Father, with whom he eternally exists. This verse is echoed in the Nicene Creed: 'God (qualitative or derivative) from God (personal, the Father), Light from Light, True God from True God… homoousion with the Father.'"
Other variations of rendering John 1:1 also exist:
For a complete list of 70 non traditional translations of John 1:1 see this reference
The text of John 1:1 has a sordid past and a myriad of interpretations. With the Greek alone, we can create empathic, orthodox, creed-like statements, or we can commit pure and unadulterated heresy. From the point of view of early church history, heresy develops when a misunderstanding arises concerning Greek articles, the predicate nominative, and grammatical word order. The early church heresy of Sabellianism understood John 1:1c to read, "and the Word was the God." The early church heresy of Arianism understood it to read, "and the word was a God."
— David A. Reed
There are two issues affecting the translating of the verse, theology and proper application of grammatical rules. The commonly held theology that Jesus is God naturally leads one to believe that the proper way to render the verse is the one which is most popular. The opposing theology that Jesus is subordinate to God as his Chief agent leads to the conclusion that "... a god" or "... divine" is the proper rendering. Some scholars staunchly oppose the translation ...a god, while other scholars believe it is possible or even preferable.
Competing beliefs have caused controversy on whether Jesus was the one and only God, or was a god, lesser than and completely distinct from God.
Origen of Alexandria, a teacher in Greek grammar of the third century, wrote about the use of the definite article:
We next notice John's use of the article in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. In some cases he uses the article, and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos, but to the name of God he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God.... The true God, then, is The God (ho theos)."
A major point of contention, since the theos in question occurs without the definite article (the), within the grammatical debate is the proper application of Colwell's rule, set out by Greek scholar E. C. Colwell, which states:
"In sentences in which the copula is expressed, a definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb."
At issue is whether Colwell's rule applies to John 1:1 and if it is a reliable standard by which grammatical constructions of this type should be measured. It has been pointed out that Colwell's rule does not help by determining definiteness. Rodney J. Decker stated, "it has often been misused by well-intentioned defenders of the deity of Christ."
Daniel B. Wallace argues that the use of the anarthrous theos (the lack of the definite article before the second theos) is due to its use as a qualitative noun, describing the nature or essence of the Word, not due to Colwell's rule.
The rendering as "a god" is justified by some non-trinitarians by comparing it with Acts 28:6 which they claim has a similar grammatical construction' "The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god."[Ac. 28:6 NIV]. However, it was noted that the Hebrew words El, HaElohim and Yahweh (all referring to God) were rendered as anarthrous theos in the Septuagint at Nahum 1:2, Isaiah 37:16, 41:4, Jeremiah 23:23 and Ezekiel 45:9 among many other locations. Moreover, in the New Testament anarthrous theos was used to refer to God in locations including John 1:18a, Romans 8:33, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 6:16 and Hebrews 11:16 (although the last two references do have an adjective aspect to them). Therefore anarthrous or arthrous constructions by themselves, with out context, can not determine how to render it into a target language.
In the October 2011 Journal of Theological Studies, Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti reason that the indefinite article in the Coptic translation, of John 1:1, has a qualitative meaning. Many such occurrences for qualitative nouns are identified in the Coptic New Testament, including 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8. Moreover the indefinite article is used to refer to God in Deuteronomy 4:31 and Malachi 2:10.
Coptic scholar George Horner renders the Sahidic Coptic of John 1:1c as "and [a] God was the word." while his apparatus mentions "Square brackets imply words used by the Coptic and not required by the English".
"In the beginning (arche) was the Word (logos)" may be compared with:
"...was God (Theós)" may be compared with:
|-||but||they were expecting||him||to be going||to become inflamed||or||to fall down||suddenly||dead|
|after a while||great||however||they||expecting||and||seeing||nothing||amiss||to||him||happening|
|having changed their opinion||said||he||was||a god|
The Greek word λόγος or logos is a word with various meanings. It is often translated into English as "Word" but can also mean thought, speech, account, meaning, reason, proportion, principle, standard, or logic, among other things. It has varied use in the fields of philosophy, analytical psychology, rhetoric and religion.
Of the Gospels, John has the highest explicit Christology. Here Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the True Vine, etc. In 1:1, John identifies Jesus as the Logos, that which made the existence of the created world possible.
In orthodox Christian understanding of John's Christology, the conception that Jesus Christ is the Logos has been important in establishing the doctrine of Jesus' divinity, as well as that of the Trinity, as set forth in the Chalcedonian Creed.
The debate about the nature of Christ from the first century through the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE must be understood in light of the pervasive world view of Platonic dualism. Platonism is normally divided into four periods: Old Academy (347-267 BCE), New Academy (267-80 BCE), Middle Platonism (80BCE-250 CE), and Neoplatonism (250 CE through the Reformation).
Some scholars of the Bible[who?] have suggested that John made creative use of double meaning in the word "Logos" to communicate to both Jews, who were familiar with the Wisdom tradition in Judaism, and Hellenic polytheism, especially followers of Philo, often called Hellenistic Judaism. Each of these two groups had its own history associated with the concept of the Logos, and each could understand John's use of the term from one or both of those contexts. Especially for the Hellenists, however, John turns the concept of the Logos on its head when he claimed "the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us" (v. 14).
Gordon Clark translated Logos as "Logic" in the opening verses of the Gospel: "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God." He meant to imply by this translation that the laws of logic were contained in the Bible itself and were therefore not a secular principle imposed on the Christian worldview.
In unitarian Christology there are other interpretations of John 1:1. In the commentaries on John ch.1 by Lelio Sozzini (Zurich, c.1559) and his nephew Fausto Sozzini (Lyons, c.1562) the "word" being "made flesh" is taken as a reference to the virgin birth, and not to the personal pre-existence of Christ. The passages in the New Testament referring to the Logos were explained by Fausto Sozzini as relating to the foreknown work of Christ as the author of the new creation, not as relating to the "old" Genesis creation. Fausto Sozzini aimed to "completely de-Platonize" the reading of John 1:1-15.