Re: "In the beginning was the word" (Jn 1:1a)

From: Jason Hare (
Date: Tue Feb 22 2000 - 08:19:32 EST


We are all taught in the most basic Greek that LOGOS means "word,
statement, purpose, etc." That is no shock. I think what you have said
makes sense, but why are you against the translation "word?" What do you
have against it?

Jason Hare

On 02/15/00, "Steven Craig Miller <>" wrote:
> To: the participants of B-Greek,
> Myron C. Tuman, in his "A Preface to Literacy: An Inquiry into Pedagogy,
> Practice, and Progress" (The University of Alabama Press, 1987), writes:
> << Few languages of the world without a written form have a word for
> 'word,' that is, have a word by which to refer to the concept of discrete,
> meaningful verbal units that are combined to form utterances >> (95).
> Tuman continues:
> << Scribner and Cole, for example, discuss the difficulty they had asking
> native Vai speakers to name the longest word they knew, since the Vai
> language has no word for "word" and since the subjects themselves were
> often unaware of the underlying concept. The closest Vai equivalent,
> Scribner and Cole note, literally meant "a piece of speech" or "utterance,"
> and they discovered when they asked an expert in Vai script to divide a
> piece of writing into such "pieces" what we might expect--that he grouped
> units together on the basis of the way in which they were used in a
> specific context. The minimal unit of speech for this expert was not
> individual words as we know them but clusters of meaning. In studying
> another West African language, Jack Goody notes that the native term for
> "word" was best translated as "'bit' of speech" (1977:115), leading him to
> conclude that "in the beginning was not the word but speech" >> (95).
> One common definition of the term "word," for example, as given by John
> Lyons in his "Semantics" (2 volumes; Cambridge University Press, 1977), is
> as follows:
> << ... a word is any sequence of letters which, in normal typographical
> practice, is bounded on either side by a space >> (1:18).
> Of course, such "normal typographical practice" simply did not exist for
> our earliest Greek MSS.
> Under the entry on LOGOS in LSJM, they note the following:
> << VI. 'verbal expression' or 'utterance' ..., rarely a single 'word,' v.
> infr. b, never in Gramm. signf. of vocable (EPOS, LEXIS, ONOMA, RHMA), usu.
> of a 'phrase' ... >>
> And it is interesting to note that although Louw & Nida [1988] give "Word"
> as one of a number of possible meanings for LOGOS, they don't give "word"
> as one of them.
> Although "Word" as a translation of LOGOS is enshrined in tradition, I
> wonder if perhaps "utterance" (or even "Utterance" -- I'm not trying to
> raise any Christological issues here) might be a better translation of
> LOGOS at John 1:1a. Similarly, I wonder if Psalms 33:6a might be better
> translated as: "by the utterance of Yahweh the heavens were made." (BDB
> gives "utterance" as a meaning for the Hebrew word DBR.)
> I'll note that Tyndale [1534] translated LOGOS at John 1:1 as "word." Does
> anyone have any idea why Tyndale made such a choice? And is it possible
> that for Tyndale, the term "word" might have meant "utterance"? OED1 seems
> to suggest that the notion of "word" referring to "a combination of vocal
> sounds, or one such sound, used in a language to express an idea (e.g. to
> denote a thing, attribute, or relation), and constituting an ultimate
> minimal element of speech having a meaning as such; a vocable" dates back
> to 1000 CE (I have the small print edition of OED1 and I hope my eyes
> aren't playing tricks on me).
> What do you think?
> -Steven Craig Miller
> Alton, Illinois (USA)
> FWIW: I'm neither a clergy-person, nor an academic (and I have no post-grad
> degrees).

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