- In the beginning, The Word was,
and The Word was with God,
and The Word was God.
- He was with God, in the beginning.
- Through Him, all things were made, and
without Him, not one thing was made that has been made.
[my original translation from the Greek]
This is the beginning in more ways than one. The most significant beginning is the “Big Idea” that I had this past weekend. Over the next few months, I will be taking you on a journey. I’m not sure where it will end right now, but I’m sure you and I will both learn a few things along the way. I aim to uncover some truth about scripture, uncover some truths about our culture, and some truths about myself.
This journey begins, literally, with the verses above. Last year, as part of my Greek studies, I was part of a small class that met in downtown Lancaster to sight read the Gospel of John in the original Greek.
Our translations were sometimes a bit hesitant, and at times pretty rough. But that’s the point. We were not to prepare for the class. We simply showed up with our Greek New Testament, and chapter by chapter, we progressed through his entire gospel.
I fell in love with the Fourth Gospel. He wrote about the truth in a way that is hard to find in today’s “post-truth” world.
John has a way of writing that has connected with me. Partly because it was easy enough for me to sight read, and partly because of the Holy Spirit drawing me into the text, showing me things I had never seen before.
Reading Greek is one of those super “geeky” things I do. During my other Greek class, my professor and I simply read ancient Greek stories. Epics of naval battles and journeys across distant lands.
But, for me, it is the two tiered approach that allowed my Greek comprehension to grow. Reading epic Greek stories combined with deep dives into the grammar of the language.
These days, I bring my Greek New Testament to church to follow along during the readings. I read my devotionals from it. I took it to Israel last fall to read. Throw in some Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible, done three centuries before Christ was born), some readings from the apostolic fathers (like the Didache, Clement, Polycarp, etc), and that’s a full plate.
Having already somehow made it the whole way through John, reading at what felt like breakneck speeds, I thought let’s do it again. This time, slower.
So I have begun translating John from the original Greek. Staring this truth in the face.
But this time, deeply analyzing the details of his writings. Spending time on each phrase, sentence, and discourse, like an archaeologist slowly uncovering the massive beast hidden in the stone.
In each post, I’ll add some of what I find; things I discover and find interesting. Though, most all of these things have been discovered by others long before I, and when I can, I’ll reference those great scholars who have spent decades in John’s gospel.
God’s Word is filled with truths, Jesus calls Himself the truth, and it seems today that truth itself is under assault from those who fear God’s authority.
Today’s world seems to question, as Pilate did, “What is truth?”
And this is another reason why I am diving deep into God’s True Word. Digging out His Truth from the dust of a “post-truth” world. And it is found in the Greek.
For this reason, I am tentatively calling my translation “The True Word” translation of John. It is with full humility that I admit up front I’ll be making translation mistakes that will need corrected. So this “True Word” I am referring to is not a claim to ‘the perfect translation’ but rather that it is speaking God’s Truth. I may change the name of the translation as time marches on and I feel a more appropriate term fits.
But for now, let’s dig in!
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
In the beginning, The Word was,
and The Word was with God,
and The Word was God. (John 1:1)
Like most, the first thing that we see is John’s clear reference to Genesis. In the beginning. Most translation I have seen say “In the beginning was the word.” This is the word order in the original manuscripts.
But Greek works differently than English. You can have a verb followed by two nouns and know which noun is the subject and which is the direct object based on the ending of those two nouns (known as its ‘case ending’).
“The Word” in Greek is λόγος. The ending here tells us it is the subject.
First, John is using Genesis as a model, I followed where he was going with that. “In the beginning, God created…” and kept that pattern. “In the beginning, The Word was…“
Second, since John is using this verse to introduce us to the eternal nature of God, I switched the English word order to show the eternal nature of The Word. He wasn’t just “in the beginning.” He, just, “was“. Just like when God described Himself to Moses. “I am.”
Regarding John’s use of “with” to describe how The Word was “with” God, it is tough to capture the full essence of this in English. The Greek says προς. This typically has a sense of direction, like one is moving towards something.
But it also is used to illustrate two separate persons in the sense that The Word was “with” God. John is using this to let us know God isn’t just The Word, nor the inverse.
There is a relationship between The Word and The Father (who is called God here).
οὖτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
He was with God, in the beginning. (John 1:2)
John tends to repeat himself quite often1 to make his point. Often, he will do so in a chiastic way (point A, point B, point B’, then returning to point A’).
Here, John returning to the phrase, “in the beginning” can be seen that John is wrapping up his callback to the first words of the Torah, before moving on to the rest of creation.
πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν
Through Him, all things were made, and
without Him, not one thing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
In some of John’s repetition, we can almost hear him doing what Paul does with rhetorical questions. He answers the hypothetical question before it can even be raised.
Some claim that God created Jesus, and then Jesus created the world. This idea is then taken to the next level by some to say that we can “all” become ‘gods’ like Jesus ‘became a god.’
However, John uses an amazing combination of phrases with one statement followed by the negative of the opposite.
Point one is that Jesus created everything (“all things” is a bit more literal translation of πάντα). But John then reverses his point of reference to show that there are no exceptions: there is “nothing made” that was made that wasn’t made by The Word. Follow that?
If Jesus was a created being, then the second half of John’s statement would be false. There is nothing made that The Word didn’t make. So he couldn’t be a created being.
This line is amazing in how perfectly John shows Jesus is God, is eternal, and as we’ll find out later, would soon pitch a tent and live within his own creation.
This is an amazing opening to John’s gospel. He uses a careful arrangement of words, and links to Jewish background, to introduce us to our Savior. As we will learn in an upcoming posting, the Word is bringing light into a world that is in dire need of saving. And the most amazing part of all is that there is nothing we will ever be able to do to earn it.
He is giving it to us. That is the gospel.
Harris, Murray. (2015). Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: John (p. 13). B&H Publishing Group. ↩
Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ and husband to my awesome wife Angie. I'm an artist and writer,
living in the beautiful countryside of Lancaster, Pa.