[b-greek] RE: Genitive chain in 1 John 1:1

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Sat Feb 16 2002 - 08:20:32 EST

> From: Bret A. Hicks [mailto:bret@viafamily.com]
> I have been studying 1 John 1:1 and have a question about the
> phrase PERI TOU LOGOU THS ZWHS. In particular am I interested in
> the relationship of THS ZWHS to TOU LOGOU. It seems that it
> could be understood as epexegetical ("concerning the word which
> is life") or adjectivally ("concerning the living word") or
> objectivally ("concerning the word about life").
> It seems that all of these are possible, but is one preferable,
> or more common, based on the syntax?

Just to add a couple of comments to what has already been said. The genitive
form of LOGOS is governed by PERI so this is semantically of no interest.
So the question is what is the semantic relationship between LOGOS and ZWH?
To answer that question the best way is not to look in a grammar and tick
off various names for genitives. It is better to look at how John uses these
two words, especially in 1 John, and of course, especially in the
immediately surrounding verses, like 1:2.

LOGOS occurs 6 times in 1 John, but only this first instance seems to be
personified, and therefore one needs to look at chapter one in John's gospel
to get the relevant context, and here the personified LOGOS occurs 4 times
(and ZWH twice in v. 4). It is significant that the first section of John as
well as 1 John is a special genre, a somewhat philosophical and more or less
poetic prologue.

ZWH is a key word in 1 John (and in John). It occurs 13 times in 1 John. (A
concordance is indispensable for any student of Greek. The electronic ones
are really helpful.) Apart from v. 2, the most relevant context is 1 John
5:11-13 where the word occurs five times close together. These verses expand
the relationship between the two words, mentioned in brief through the
genitive in 1:1. Another relevant context is John 20:31, the final, summary,
key verse of John's Gospel. One of the most interesting facts about Hebrew
rhetorical structure is the inclusio effect. This means that there is an
important conceptual link between the introduction and conclusion of the
whole book as well as most sections.

All of this is not PART of the meaning of the genitive, but the genitive is
a neat way of linking two concepts together. Many sentences are used to
spell out the relationship between these two concepts. Much of John and 1
John centers around it.

Concerning translation, I would keep the genitive in those languages that
employ such genitives, and that includes Indo-European languages and most
others. However, IF there were to exist a language which could not use a
genitive here, I would probably expand the relationship to something like
"he who brought the message about (how to obtain) (eternal) life". This
lacks the concept that Jesus not only brings the message that can give
people eternal life, but he represents that life himself, he IS that life
and he gives that life to all who believe in him (John 3:16).

Iver Larsen
SIL International translation consultant

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