Monday, April 26, 2010

In the Beginning

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1 Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

I can't think of too many passages that bring as much hope and controversy.  It brings hope if we read it as it is translated here, particularly the last phrase.  The Word was God.  This means that Jesus was the same as God.  He was there in the beginning, or Ἐν ἀρχῇ.  This is the same phrase used to start the Septuagint at Genesis 1:1.  It takes us right back to the creation narrative.

The controversy also comes from the last phrase.  What does καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος mean?  Technically, this is ambiguous.  Arians translate this as "the Word was a God."  A modern example of Arians would be the Jehovah's Witnesses.  It would be possible, though less likely to translate it as "the Word was the God," though you probably wouldn't because of the article on λόγος.  The wooden translation of "what God was, the Word was."

The lack of a definite article on θεὸς keeps us from making the person of Jesus the same as the person of God the Father.  The word order tells us that all of the attributes of θεὸς are present in ὁ λόγος.  Luther's concise explanation is that "the lack of an article is against Sabellianism; the word order is against Arianism." (Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 2nd Ed, 27-28).

You may disagree with this translation, though it is the traditional one of the church.  What you will have to determine is who you trust when it comes to Greek translation.  Was Arius a heretic or a saint?  Translation is not just a matter of pure grammar, though in some cases it is.  The Arian translation is possible, though very unlikely.  Do you want to stake your eternity on that?


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Hey brother, interesting short discussion on this short but powerful text at the beginning of John's gospel.

This is coming from a Greek Orthodox Xtian: I like the part of your post where you report what Luther said about the word order of "kai Theós ín o Lógos." I believe this is really quite correct, based on my understanding of Greek, and my practice of the Greek Orthodox faith.

What many Western Xtians don't seem to understand, and this fuels their perpetually ongoing questionings and controversies, is that whereas they have to translate the Greek text into their languages and try to get it right, the Eastern Church understands the words in their own language.

What I've told JW's when they have tried to argue with me about this verse is quite simple: You came to your understanding thru translation. We Greeks came to our understanding thru knowing the language and its nuances... it is OUR language.

Granted, modern Greek is a dialect of evangelical (koiné) Greek, but the Greek of the bible is still our standard language, sometimes called katharévousa, altho even that is a high dialect of the Greek of the bible.

Christian doctrine was formulated by the early Church, which was Greek speaking as the Orthodox Church still is. For us, what Westerners call "koiné" Greek is not a dead or merely scholarly language. It is the living language of our prayer and worship and bible study. We have not let it die, but still live within its cadences and meanings.

The modern Arian and any other heretic cannot refute the living faith of the Greek Christian, which is Orthodox because it is based on the original text of the New Testament without translation.

Let's get together, the bible Christians and followers of Jesus, West and East, and let's learn to speak, pray, worship and live in the language that God chose to use in revealing His Divine Nature and His plan of salvation.

Please visit my blog and leave a comment there, so I can add your blog to my favorites. I am at a remote location at the moment and cannot save your very interesting blog.

Grace and peace, brother.

Jason said...

Thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate your input here. It is very difficult for an American to get that heart knowledge of Koine that would be so hepful, but I would love to have that (and in Hebrew too).

It's nice to see that it's not just American Greek scholars who see John 1:1 this way. Your comment gives the historical orthodox translation that much more credibility.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Hey Jason, thanks for stopping by at my blog and leaving a comment. That let me save your blog to my favs when I got home.

My synergos (co-worker in the Lord, missionary partner) Brock and I have found that the Lord has been leading us to be "original languages" bible men. I've been in the Greek Church for 22 years and have acquired the native use of the Greek language. Brock and I started our partnership over 5 years ago and he is also fairly fluent in evangelical Greek, able to read it at least as well as a Greek can. Two Christmases ago we began studying Tanakh in the original Hebrew, and incorporating the reading aloud of the Hebrew psalms (Tehillim) into our individual prayer lives. We're on the way to becoming fluent in Hebrew and it is a far more simple and basic language than Greek, almost an oriental language like Chinese in that simple words form pictures in the mind and can be spoken with a minimum of particles and grammatical endings. We are really enjoying learning it. We don't know what the Lord has in store for us, but we just know we are supposed to become totally fluent in these languages. It helps being Greek Orthodox because we have absorbed much that self-teaching can never impart. As for the Hebrew, we have attended the Sephardic synagogue here in Portland to get a jump start, and then we have the entire Tanakh read aloud on CD from a rabbi in Israel, and we model our pronunciation on his, so it is not the usual Ashkenazi pronunciation.

Anyway, don't want to hog your blog comments with anything further. Just saying thanks, and good to have found you. I will begin reading your posts and see what you've got going here.

Don't be surprised if I may comment on older posts. Any help or confirmation you might need with the Greek, I am at your service, brother.

Charis kai eirini,

Jason said...

Thanks brother. My Hebrew education consists of 3 semesters of seminary training. I am considering the pursuit of PhD in Hebrew. I find the study of the OT to be more interesting than the NT. I think that as a whole there is more research to be done in Hebrew than in Greek. It seems like everyone wants to study Greek, but Hebrew has more room for study. I may be wrong on that though.

Anyhow, I appreciate you coming by and commenting. I look forward to some good conversations!

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

For us, the study of the Word in the original languages has a direct and immediate bearing on ministry, not only to others but to ourselves. It somehow gives added force to our testimony and to our prayer. We pray the Word, you know. Orthodox worship consists almost completely of scripture texts or poetry created out of scripture texts. We approach the Word in the original languages in a state of awe and wonder, and the Lord reveals Himself to us in a way that we cannot describe but which has a very great impact on us, which He somehow passes through us and to others. We don't study in order to teach, but in order to pray and to witness. There is only one Teacher, the Messiah.

I wish you well on your intentions to learn more Hebrew and Greek, and especially that the Lord bless you as much as He is blessing us.

I stand with Luther in affirming what he says, "Anyone not ceaselessly busy with the Word of God must become corrupt." (Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation)