Re: John 1:1

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Sep 06 1997 - 08:58:27 EDT

At 10:39 PM -0500 9/5/97, D. Anthony Storm wrote:
> No one replied to my post. so I will rephrase and be brief. What would be
>the most precise way of rendering the following into Koine Greek:
>1) the Word was God, 2) the Word was a god, 3) the word was divine.
>I, of course, have my own idea, but I want to hear from the experts. If John
>is unclear, how could he have made himself clear. Note: this is a question
>of syntax---not designed to start a theological debate.

Is this a test we'll get graded on? I'm not sure that any of those who have
discussed John 1:1c has asserted that John is unclear (rather, I think,
almost everyone who has discussed it has indicated that s/he [(-;] is quite
sure what it means--and most of them even agree about what it means!

The phrasing of your question, however, requires something that (ancient)
Greek cannot do because it does not have upper and lower-case letters to
make it easier for us to distinguish between "The Word was God" and "The
Word was god." I think that when we capitalize "God," we are using it as a
proper name and assuming monotheism in a way that (ancient) Greek does not
do. Even when Victorian or even more recent translators convert Plato's hO
QEOS into "God," they are performing an act of eisegesis, for hO QEOS does
not imply monotheism nor is it a proper name (Socrates was very probably
thinking of Apollo), rather it is "the god." So for your #1 above, you're
asking for something that Greek just cannot do--at least not outside of a
clearly given monotheistic context--as Rolf has rightly underscored
repeatedly. And if there is a clearly given monotheistic context, then #2,
"a god" makes no sense because it implies reference to one of several gods.
I think, personally, that we DO have a clearly given monotheistic context
here assumed by the evangelist and his intended audience. BUT the phrasing
creates a problem if we don't take that context into consideration.

Having first said that, here's what I'd offer:

1) the Word was God: impossible. The closest one can get is to say "The
Word was the god." hO LOGOS HN hO QEOS. And note, outside of a monotheistic
frame of reference, this does not necessarily mean that "the god" is
unique--it just doesn't give us the god's name.

2) the Word was a god: easy. Best (I think) would be QEO/S TIS HN hO Logos.

3) the word was divine: also easy: QEIOS HN hO LOGOS (or QEIO/N TI HN hO

So there are some equivalents, but I can only say that they are not really
at all useful for the discussion of John 1:1c.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:27 EDT