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

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Feb 22 2000 - 19:47:39 EST

<x-rich>At 4:48 PM -0600 2/22/00, Steven Craig Miller wrote:

>For me, the issue is not whether or not the translation "word" can in

>sense be seen as "acceptable," but rather which translation better

>the original text's meaning. Perhaps you don't feel that the

>which I've offered better reflect the original text. That is fair

>it seems to me that there is plenty of room for differences of opinion

>here. Unfortunately, I'm unclear as to why you feel that the term
"word" is

>a better translation than what I've offered. Perhaps you would like


For my part, I'd be perfectly happy to see "word" replaced by something
better to translate LOGOS in the Johannine Prologue, but I'm not
convinced that "utterance" serves that need or better reflects the
intended sense of the original. Of course, it is obvious that there is
room for argument over what the intended sense of the original was;
whether rightly or wrongly, it has generally been held that use of the
word LOGOS in the Johannine Prologue is akin to and probably derivative
from the Hokhma/SOFIA traditions of Hellenistic Judaism as seen in
Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, and it has
also been held that it bears a relationship of some sort to the usage
of LOGOS in Philo of Alexandria, although that too is not definitively
proven. I've argued here before against those who insist that Jewish
tradition alone governs usage of the word in the Johannine Prologue
that I personally think it's inconceivable that usage of LOGOS in
Heraclitus and the Stoic traditions plays absolutely no role in the
meaning(s) to be discerned in the Johannine LOGOS.

I'd be perfectly happy to let the transliterated Greek word LOGOS stand
wherever it appears in the text of the Johannine Prologue when the
Greek is translated into English. I think most first-time readers of
the Johannine Prologue in translation are driven to a commentary in any
case, and I doubt that compulsion ends with the first reading of the
Prologue. At any rate, I don't think any single English word can do
justice to what 'appears' to be implicit in the Greek LOGOS. While we
may not agree with all the senses that Goethe's Faust applies in the
effort to convey LOGOS into German, some of them do appear close to
what may be implicit, as he proceeds from "word" to "sense" to "power"
to "act":

        <color><param>0000,7777,0000</param>Geschrieben steht: "Im Anfang war
das Wort!"

        Hier stock' ich schon! Wer hilft mir weiter fort?

        Ich kann das Wort so hoch ummšglich schŠtzen,

        Ich muss es anders Ÿbersetzen,

        Wenn ich vom Geiste recht erleuchtet bin.

        Geschrieben steht: "Im Anfang war der Sinn,

        Bedenke wohl die erste Zeile,

        Dass deine Feder sich nicht Ÿbereile!

        Ist es der Sinn, der alles wirkt und schafft?

        Es sollte stehn: "Im Anfang war die Kraft!"

        Doch, auch indem ich dieses niederschreibe,

        Schon warnt mich was, dass ich dabei nicht bleibe.

        Mir hilft der Geist! Auf einmal seh' ich Rat

        Und schreibe gestrost: "Im Anfang war die Tat!" Faust I, 1224-1237

I don't like "utterance" because, although it certainly may apply to
more than a single 'vocable', it appears to me to be limited too
strictly in essence to spoken communication, and I'm pretty well
convinced that LOGOS always implies more than spoken communication in
Greek (hRHMA comes closer to "utterance" in that sense, I think).
Although etymology may not ultimately 'count' for much in 'accounting'
for word usage, I have a notion that LOGOS and LEGW are never really
TOO-far removed from their original sense of "tale/tally" and "tell" in
terms of counting or recounting--ticking off in succession the elements
that belong to a meaningful whole. I don't think I'd want to use "tale"
or "tally" for the Johannine LOGOS either, but I wouldn't object to
something like "message" or "communication"--because that's what I
think the intended sense of LOGOS in the Johannine prologue is. In
fact, I've always rather liked J.B. Phillips' "In the beginning God
expressed himself"--but perhaps that already goes over into

In sum, I'm not hung up on "word" to translate LOGOS, but I'm far from
satisfied that "utterance" is an improvement.

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



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