RE: Translation for O LOGOS (John 1)?

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Oct 13 1997 - 03:40:25 EDT

Dear list-members,

After reading Will Wagers« post of Sat, 11 Oct 1997 16:45 I better
understand the logic behind his suggestion "soul". He also writes:

<Logos is so seminal to the Greek and Hellenistic collective psyches that
*any* <translation is achieved only by cleaving off a specific meaning
suggested by a <particular context, thus leaving the severed roots visible
but unattached and <therefore unexplorable without significant effort.
Thus, transliteration is a <preferable alternative to "Word" in that it
invites, even demands, explanation. <I think many people would be
sympathetic to this position."

If someone enrolls in a course in applied linguistics, the first question
s/he learns to ask is: "For whom am I translating?" It does not make sense
to speak of a rendition as right/wrong or good/bad if the target group is
not defined first. Therefore I find Will`s last sentence about demanding an
explanation interesting. Regarding the biblical text, there are two
principal approaches: Either to use Nida`s method of functional
equivalence, which means both to translate the text and the original
presupposition pool, or just to translate the text, and leave it to the
reader to become familiar with the author`s presupposition pool. By the
first choice an idiomatic translation is made, by the second a literal
study edition.

A transliteration of hO LOGOS would hardly be chosen by an idiomatic
translation, but is excellent for a literal one. The problem, however, is
that a literal translation made for study, as far as possible, tries to
render each Greek word with the same English word. So what is gained by a
transliteration is lost because other instances of LOGOS hardly can be
transliterated. The rendition chosen by most translations, both idiomatic
and literal is "the Word". It has no problematic connotations which can
mislead the reader, it can be used for every occurrence of hO LOGOS, and
because everybody realize that it is not used for an impersonal word, it
certainly demands an explanation.

It is true, as Will has argued, that the concept signalled by LOGOS is
extremely wide, and much of it is omitted by using just "the Word". This is
the principal weakness of the rendition. Given the proposed hellenistic
background I find Will`s suggestion "soul" logical. However, most exegetes
will look for a Hebrew background, and I think that the choice between the
two, particularly in a literal study edition, should be left to the reader.
This can be done by using the neutral expression "the Word" in translation,
and reserve other arguments to a commentary on the verse.

Just as we always should define the target group before suggesting a
translation, we should not make a certain theology the premise for our
translation, as has been done in two recent posts. It is impossible to
translate the Bible without using theology, but it should be the last
recourse, after having wrestled with the lexical meanings, grammar/syntax
and the context of the passage.


Rolf Furuli
†niversity of Oslo

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