John 1.1: Grammatical Points

From Logos to Trinity
September 5, 2017
Jesus’ use of the Divine Passive means he is not God!
September 5, 2017

John 1.1: Grammatical Points

By Carlos Xavier

Most translations inappropriately introduce the male pronoun ‘he’ into John 1.1-2 where ‘he’ replaces ‘this one'[1]. This prompts the reader into the mistake of thinking “the word” is a distinct person from its subject/source, God. Although Greek has grammatical gender [meaning nouns are masculine or feminine], this does not mean the reader should assign personhood, let alone sexual gender, to them. For example, just because “word” [logos] in Greek can be accompanied by masculine pronouns, it does not mean it is a person, let alone make or female! To render it this way would be grammatical suicide!

The New International Dictionary of NT Theology notes that the phrase “in the beginning”[2] in relation to “the word”, refers to the “eternal pre-existence of the Word whose true sphere was not time but eternity”[3]. This should alert the reader to the simple fact that the writer has the person of God in view, since God is said to be the only One who is inherently immortal[4]. This is in line with Jesus’ reference to God as “the living Father”[5] Who “has granted/given that same life-giving power to His Son”[6].

Furthermore, the word translated “with” [pros] in the phrase: “the word was with God” in John 1.1b “does not imply any movement or action on the part of the Logos”[7], as if it were talking about one person next to [“with”, para(8)] another, God. Hence the translation that best captures the meaning and intent of John 1.1c: “what God was the word was”; i.e. it was God’s word!

Apart from these grammatical points, the simple fact remains that in English “word” is an “it”, and not a “he”. The 8 English translations from the Greek [not from the Latin Vulgate], before the 1611 KJV, all have “it” instead of “he”.[9]

It was the Roman Catholic Douay/Rheims version, translated from the Latin by Gregory Martin in 1582, which first rendered John 1:3, ‘all things were made by him,’ rather than ‘by it’ (the ‘word’).

J.D.G. Dunn in his Christology in the Making notes:

“…it is only with verse 14 [‘the word became flesh’] that we can begin to speak of the personal Logos. The poem uses rather impersonal language (became flesh), but no Christian would fail to recognize here a reference to Jesus—the word became not flesh in general but Jesus Christ. Prior to verse 14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and Logosdealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than an individual divine being as such.
“The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine Logos as ‘he’ throughout the poem. But if we translated Logos as ‘God’s utterance’ instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the Logos of vv. 1-13 to be thought of as a personal divine being. In other words, the revolutionary significance of v. 14 may well be that it marks…the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.”[10]

In John 1.1 “the word of God” is not a person apart from the one God. This would inevitably lead to a blurring of the One Person of God [the Father, cf. John 17.1-3; 1Cor 8.4-6] and a serious error on the part of the reader as to “how many” God is.

[1] houtos, see the TEV, LB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NAB, AND the AB.
[2] “It is not by accident that the Gospel begins with the same phrase as the book of Genesis. In Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning’…In both works of creation the agent is the Word of God.” F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983) pp. 28-29.
[3] Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of NT Theology, 4vols; pp. 1204-05.
[4] “The unseen One Who never dies”, New Living Translation, 1Tim 1.17; 6.16.
[5] Cp. “the living God”, Deut 5:26; Joshua 3:10; Psalm 42:2; Jer 10:10; Daniel 6:20; Hosea 1:10; Mat 16.16; Acts 14:15; 2 Cor 3:3; 1 Tim 4:10.
[6] John 5.26, New Living Translation.
[7] “Support for this view may be found in the NT parallels where pros with the acc. often following the verb einai denotes the linear motion but punctiliar [i.e, not moving] rest (Matt. 26.18, 55 vl.; Mk. 6.3 ( =Matt. 13.56); 9.19 ( = Lk. 9.41 but Matt. 17.17 has meth’ hymon); 14.49; 1Cor 16.6f.; 2Cor 5.8; 11.9; Gal 1.18; 4.18, 20; Phil 1.26; 1Thess 3.4; 2Thess 2.5; 3.10; Phlm 13; Heb 4.13; 1Jn 1.2).” ibid., Brown, NIDNT, p 1204. Emphasis added.
[8] “…elsewhere John uses para tini to express the proximity of one person to another (Jn. 1.39; 4.40; 8.38; 14.17, 23, 25; 19.25; cf. 14.23; note also meta tinos in Jn. 3.22, 25 f. etc.) or the nearness of the Son to the Father (Jn 8.38; 17.5), never pros tina.” Ibid., Brown, NIDNT, p 1205. Emphasis added.
[9] Buzzard, “John 1 and the word”, Focus on the Kingdom, v.9 n.12, Sept. 2007.
[10] J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 243.