Re: John 1:1, Structure and Transl.

On Wed, 23 Nov 1994 Dvdmoore@aol.com wrote:

>      The comments on the rhetorical figure in Jn. 1:1 seem well taken, and
> the quote from Shakespeare is a good illustration of this construction from
> our own tongue.  But the translation of the last foot of the verse under
> discussion (i.e. "And 'God' was the word"), IMO, goes somewhat off the beam.
>  We've already had quite a bit of discussion about the subject's being in the
> predicate position when two nouns are joined by the third person singular of
> EIMI and only the latter of them has the article.  The arthrous noun in the
> predicate position in such a case (as here in Jn. 1:1) is treated as the
> subject.  

I was merely trying to show the pattern in English. Since English doesn't 
have as flexible a word order, I did make "God" the grammatical subject 
in my translation.  I didn't mean for it to have any meaning other than - 
The word was: "God."  Aside from emphasis by position and an avoidance of 
literalism, what would the distinction be between, say, a translation like 
"The word was God" and "God was the word"?

>      Besides the foregoing, LOGOS should probably not be understood as "word"
> in the strictest sense of that term here.  Recent discussion on this list has
> shown that LOGOS is very ample semantically, and many of its other 
> probably come closer to what John was expressing than "word" understood
> strictly.  

Of course it's my pet theory that John's word play here is as simple as 
this: that he meant exactly "word" in the literal sense, in order to 
create a figurative (metaphorical) comparison between Jesus and God.  
Jesus is the word that God speaks, and that word that God speaks is 
"God": that is, all of himself.  The point is reiterated in John 1 by 
reference to Jesus showing/revealing God to the world (v.18 eksEgEsato), 
just as a word refers to its referent without at the same time being its 

There is also, I believe, an allusion to God creating the universe "by 
his word", following the Old Testament, and interpreted messianically in 
a demiurgic sense, which is clear from the allusion to Genesis's creation 
story (en arkhEi) and its messianic retelling (v. 3, 5, 10).  I see no need 
for a detour to Greek philosophical speculation on _logos_ unless it would be 
to deepen/enrich the Jewish meaning which I think is primary.  If _logos_ 
as messiah becomes _logos_ as literal word, in order to make a 
metaphorical point in John 1:1, then that would be the merest 
paranomasia, which is much easier to believe than the paradoxical 

Jesus is distinguished from _theos_ not only in John 1:1, but also in 
1:12, 13, 14, and most emphatically in 18: no one has ever seen God, and 
in the same breath John says he has seen Jesus (14).  The Nicene reading 
requires one to wrench the obvious sense of the text not only from its 
literal meaning, but also from any logical one (pun intended).  John was 
a clever wordsmith, as we have seen, and I do not believe he would have 
plunged into incomprehensible paradox without explaining it as such, and 
deepening it, like real mystical writers do (cf. via negativa writings).

Greg Jordan

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