This is a study of the first verse of John, done through a translation from the Greek text into English. This verse is part of a larger translation project I am carrying out. For the Greek text, I used Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece. My English translation is presented in interlinear format as well as a standalone format. A Spanish translation is also included with some notes.
Notes: This study is also available in other formats (and expanded to include more verses) in my professional portfolio.
ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ ΚΑΙ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ ΗΝ ΠΡΟΣ ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΘΕΟΣ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ
Koine Greek (with accentuation and lowercase)
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
|English||in||beginning (dat.)||was (3rd)||the||logos (nom.)||and||the||logos (nom.)||was (3rd)|
|English||toward||the (acc.)||God (acc.)||and||God (nom.)||was (3rd)||the||logos (nom.)|
In the beginning was the Logos; and the Logos was with God; and the Logos was God.
In the beginning was the Logos; and the Logos was as God; and the Logos was God.
Comparison with other English translations
KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV (all are translated in the same way):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
ἦν – was
The verb ἦν (translit. in, English was) can refer to the existential form of to be, as in “to exist” (Ex: I think, therefore, I am), and can also express “to be in a state of being” (Ex: He issick). This means that the verb functions independently, and without the need of an auxiliary verb. If we reorganize the translation as subject-verb-object (S-V-O), then the first phrase could then be read as: The Logos was in the beginning or The Logos existed in the beginning. Another way that the verb ἦν could be interpreted is in the form of “there was”, as is used in other languages, such as Chinese translations. Furthermore, this verb is in the imperfect tense, which refers to an action that was occurring in the past, but that is perceived as a continuing or repeated process.
λόγος – Logos
The word λόγος (logos) here refers to the Greek concept of logos. The word itself can refer to reason, word, speech; but the concept of the Logos goes beyond the meaning of the words. It was originally described as a principle of order and knowledge by Heraclitus. Several other Greek philosophers have expanded on the meaning of the concept of the Logos, with the common ground being an argument using reason, or reason itself. Stoic philosophers applied the concept of Logos to the divine, by describing it as the principle that animates the universe. The Jewish philosopher, Philo, harmonized Stoic philosophy with Jewish theology, and expanded on this concept, proposing the Logos to be as the Stoic principle was, and directly relating it to God. In addition to presenting the Logos as an abstract concept (the thoughts or the mind of God), Philo also conceptualized it as a being, a mediator and advocate between the physical world and God. The way Philo presented the Logos was as an image of God, but not as God Himself. As the Logos was the thoughts and mind of God, it was eternal. But it wasn’t uncreated, like God was, as the Logos emanated from the mind of God. This may be a confusing concept, but it is important to understand, because it is later applied to the theology of the Trinity. In John’s writings, he identifies this Logos by drawing on Philo’s definition (some scholars argue that John was not directly influenced by Philo, but that they both arrived at similar conclusions by sharing the same source material: Stoic philosophy and Jewish theology). John uses this concept to present the Logos as a divine entity “through which all things are made”, similar to Stoic philosophy. Drawing on Philo (or Jewish theology), he identifies the Logos as Jesus Christ (later in his book), who is “the way, the truth, and the life”. All these three descriptors have been identified with the Logos: the way- the mediator between God and his Creation, the truth– being reason itself, and the life– the pervading principle through which all things are made and that animates the universe. Given this short introduction to the Logos, I’ve had a hard time trying to decide what word to use to translate it. Many English translations use the word Word, and most Spanish translation use the word Verb to translate Logos. I *personally* feel that neither word can encompass the fullness of the concept of Logos, therefore I would prefer to keep the word intact (transliterate instead of translate) as to make it clear that this word refers to the philosophical concept.
πρὸς – with/as
The word πρὸς (translit. pros, English to, toward), when followed by an accusative, refers to the subject being directed towards the object. When followed by a dative, it can mean that the subject is close (physically, as in near, or in a more personal level). Translators have interpreted this preposition to be a combination of both of these functions, refering to the Logos being close to God in a personal level. Many translations use the preposition with to present a Logos who has an intimate connection to God (near God, close to God), and whose actions are aligned with God’s will (toward God). So, even though πρὸς would not directly translate as with in all circumstances, it can refer to with in this specific context, changing the case of the word God to a dative. In the same way, the word as could be used, referring to the Logos being aligned or sharing things in common with God.
The Logos was God
In the third and last phrase of this verse, John deviates, in a way, from Philo’s concepts, and from Stoic philosophy, by describing the Logos as not only a divine being who is the image of God, but as God Himself. The verb ἦν in this phrase is now used as an identifier (Example: He is John), a statement encouraged by the use of two nominatives: God (θεὸς) and logos (ὁ λόγος). In this phrase, only the word logos carries an article, suggesting that the subject of the sentence is the logos and God is the predicative. So, even though this phrase would be literally translated as and God was the logos, a more appropriate translation would be and the logos was God.
καὶ – and
As a final note, Greek uses the word καὶ (translit. kai, English and) in many different ways. In John 1:1, καὶ is used to connect different ideas inside a verse. When we list objects or ideas in a sentence, it is common to see καὶ written at the beginning of each item. In translation, we would want to present the three phrases in John 1:1 as three different ideas that form part of a larger, unified idea. In the context of English writing, this could be written as sentences separated by semi-colons instead of periods. But to preserve as much of the original text as possible, I would prefer to use the word “and”, as it would not be grammatically damaging to use.
Additional notes (for the Spanish translation)
These notes are from my Spanish translation of John 1:1, and I felt that the translation into Spanish (which had more word options, in addition to a more similar structure to Greek than English) gave us more options to dive into the meaning of the author.
For the Spanish translation, there are two forms of the verb to be: ser and estar. The verb ser is used in the existential and identifying form, and the verb estar is used for a state of being, or when doing something, or being in a place. The phrase there is is translated in Spanish as hay; however, this verb cannot be used when referring to individuals or connecting to personal names. If John is indeed referring to the Logos as a concept (such as reason, word, speech) then the verb hay can be used. But since he then identifies it as an individual being, then the verb hay is not appropriate. Therefore, the correct verb form to use is that of ser (which in the third person imperfect is era) to preserve grammatical consistency within the sentence.
There is an interesting intersection of the Logos as both a concept and an individual. If we wanted to emphasize that the Logos is both things (a concept and an individual being), then we could bypass grammatical rules and use the verb-form hay (there is) for the first phrase, the verb-form estar (is- state of being) for the second phrase, and the verb-form ser (is- identifier) for the third phrase. Since we could not use the name the Logos as a personal name after hay, then we would have to find a word that can describe the concept of the logos, that can be referred to as an individual subject (in Spanish, this means that it should be able to carry a definite article), and that can be referred to as a non-unique word without taking away its individualism. The word razón (reason) is then a good candidate for such a translation, more so than palabra (Word) or verbo (verb), because neither of these two could be combined with the verb for there is (hay) without identifying it as a non-unique concept. Such a translation would not be grammatically correct but would use wordplay to be detailed in describing John’s view of the logos, and would be poetically interesting to read (such wordplay was also used by the Jews when writing the Scriptures). The translation would then be:
En el principio había Razón; y la Rázon estaba con Dios; y la Razón era Dios.
In that same way, the words Verdad (Truth) and Vida (Life) could be used to refer to the Logos, as both these words also present an image of what the Logos is, giving the alternative translations:
En el principio había Verdad; y la Verdad estaba con Dios; y la Verdad era Dios.
En el principio había Vida; y la Vida estaba con Dios; y la Vida era Dios.
In my opinion, this type of translation makes for a more beautiful verse. However, in doing so, we are assigning a word to define the Logos (Razón -reason-, or Verdad -truth- or Vida -life-) and that then invalidates my previous comment about encompassing the whole concept of the Logos. As to differentiate the concept of the Logos with the normal, human concept of reason, I decided to capitalize the words Reason/Truth/Life in this translation, in a similar way that words like God and Word are capitalized in Bible translations when the words refer to things that relate or come from God. Some exegesis and interpretation beyond this verse is necessary to figure out if John is emphasizing the Logos as a concept, as a concept/being, or as a being. Most of the scholars that I have read about agree that John is focusing his writings on the Logos as a being, more so than a concept. Think of it as the characters in The Pilgrim’s Progress whose names represent abstract ideas but are presented as personified beings. This conclusion (which is not obtained by me, but from other scholars) would then point me in the direction of not using the verb-form hay in the translation, even if we want to emphasize that the Logos existed in the beginning. Going back to the verb-form ser would then allow us to use the word Logos in all of the contexts presented by John.