Translating John 1:1c

There is an old book from Scholars Press that I have at home, titled
something like "An Analysis of 'Einai' in the New Testament", that
spends some time on the distinctions between subject nominatives and
predicate-modifier nominatives in clauses with "einai".  That section
also tackled the John 1:1 clause with conclusions similar to those
already offered here; in sum, if you lead with a predicate nominative,
dropping the definite article will distinguish it from the subject that
follows later in the clause.

A second problem, however, normally goes unmentioned in discussions of
this line.

English has converted "god" into a proper noun in all references to the
deity acknowledged by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as shown by its
regular anarthrous usage.  To say "the god" is to shift the ground of
the discourse altogether and to slip entirely out of monotheism.  The
use of a capital letter confirms what our grammar already tells us, that
"God" is a proper noun.

This of course is not true of Greek, where "ho theos" is the common
Jewish and Christian reference to deity.  (Indeed, the Greek of ancient
Jewish discourse had effectively turned "kyrios" into a proper noun,
given the awe with which the underlying YHWH and its replacement
"adonai" were handled; English conversely hasn't done this in religious
contexts with its equivalent "lord".)  The great difference between
English and Greek in their grammatical treatments of "theos" and "God"
pretty much makes "theos en ho logos" impossible to translate word-for-
word, as often as people try.

To say "the word was God" imports the proper-noun sense not found in the
source, and this in turn imparts back to the subject a proper-noun
sense.  So suddenly hearers/readers understand the subject "the word" as
assuring an identifiable person, which goes significantly beyond the
grammar and sense of the source text.  I do not claim that the author
did not have a person in mind--certainly the reverse--but this sentence
does not march so far and so quickly, as many English versions compel it
to do.  I must say that I do like the sense of "What God was the Word
was," although the grammatical complexity really treads on the
simplicity of the Greek.

--David N. WIGTIL.  ER Network Support.  U. S. Department of Energy.
Sophronos d' apistias
ouk estin ouden khresimoteron brotois.  (Euripides, "Helen" 1617-1618)
(There's nothing more helpful for mortals than sensible disbelief.)
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