Re: John 1:1

From: Jeffrey Gibson (
Date: Thu Feb 12 1998 - 16:56:16 EST

On Thu, 12 Feb 1998 wrote:

> [SNIP]
> Mark:
> << I understand that on this list Greek grammar is "OK" and theology is "not
> OK." Between those two are such things as historical and cultural
> background, literary context, etc., which I thought were appropriate,
> indeed necessary, for reading the Greek text correctly. Perhaps I was
> wrong.>>
> Mark:
> See Gen. 1:1. Whether or not the LXX has translated the words
> *correctly* is not important. The fact is, that Gen. 1:1 was translated
> that way. When John uses that phrase, EN ARKHi, he is bringing to the
> mind of his Jewish (Christian) reader the time to which Gen. 1:1 refers,
> which is why I made an (apparently inappropriate) comment as to what the
> Hebrew of Gen. 1:1 means.>>
> Again, you are begging the question. What evidence do you have to support your
> view of an "absolute beginning of time"? If the context reveals the meaning of
> words, then Genesis 1:1 refers to the creation of the physical universe, as it
> does several other times in the Bible.
I am one who believes that cultural context is of paramount importance
when trying to determine the meaning of any biblical passage - or for
that matter, any unterance, ancient or contemporary. Witness how
Americans, given their culture and the "presupposition pool" it entails,
will not generally understand a Brit's question "Am I mean?" or the
request to "Go and get a rubber", even if one knows everything their
is to know about the grammar of these expressions and how they
function syntactically.

With this in mind, I think that even assuming that John 1:1 has Gen. 1:1
in mind, the discussion of what John meant by EN ARCH will not be properly
grounded until we take into account, not what the original author of Gen.
1:1 meant, or even what the Hebrew or LXX syntax within that verse means
or implies, but how that passage was exegeted by Rabbis and others in
John's time. As we all know, 1st cent Biblical interpretation and exegesis
could and frequently did conveniently ignore the niceties of grammar and
syntax of a passage, relying on other methods to establish and get to what
was thought to be the meaning of a given text.

If Jn 1:1 *was* meant by the author of the Prologue (and presumably the
final editor of GJohn) to recall Gen. 1:1, then the real question that
should be asked is not so much (a) what does the grammar and syntax of
the contextualizing verse seem to imply about that which it contextualizes",
but (b) how was Gen. 1:1 understood in John's time, and how does *that*
understanding help illuminate Jn 1:1?

Jeffrey Gibson

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