In The Beginning Was The Word –

The True Meaning Of John 1:1

By Craig Bluemel

 

Translation Comparisons Of John 1:1 thru 1:5

 

Welcome to my study and thank you for being a guest here.  After nearly four years of study (off & on study) God revealed His word to me in John 1:1-1:5.  It would be impossible to describe what this personal struggle has been like; there were many long and often sleepless nights studying, digging and seeking to understand what these five seemingly innocuous Bible verses mean.  You can only appreciate the difficulty of translating from Greek to English if you have attempted to render an accurate version of the apostle John’s gospel.  His gospel and epistle is simple yet remarkably deep and reflective.

 

My goal for drafting this study was to gain a better understanding of the first chapter of John, which I believe has been widely misunderstood.  Careless hermeneutical approach to interpretation is the common culprit and the true meaning of John 1:1-5 alludes most who ignorantly compare this text to the Genesis creation.  I did this myself for the better part of my 30+ years as a believer, and only recently did I discover what John was communicating.

 

This will not be a long, drawn out treatise or an attempt at apologetics.  The whole purpose is an accurate version of scripture.  The study begins with a comparison of the King James Version (KJV) and The Appropriate Translation (TAT).  Both translations have predictable similarities, but I think you’ll find the TAT much more descriptive and fitting in the tenor of the context in John 1:1-12.

 

Below is the first general comparison, which precedes additional commentary, more scripture comparisons, including a Greek-to-English phrase-by-phrase interlinear version.  The reason for listing the KJV first is its universal acceptance amongst believers, albeit is not the best version for accuracy.

KING JAMES VERSION JOHN 1:1-5

 

John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 The same was in the beginning with God.  3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  KJV

 

THE APPROPRIATE TRANSLATION JOHN 1:1-5

 

John 1:1-5 At first the news was spreading {everywhere} and the news was about God being close at hand and God was involved in what was being said.  2 This same {message} started when God was close at hand.  3 Everyone was being drawn through {this message}; however, none of those being drawn was able to come apart from Him {God}.  4 In it {the message} was {felt} a genuine spiritual life and this spiritual life came to men by revelation of the truth.  5 And the revelation of the truth was appearing amid the obscurity and dimness {caused by sin}, and the obscurity and dimness {caused by sin} could not grasp what it meant.   (The Appropriate Translation)

 

Greek to English Translation John 1:1-1:5

JOHN 1:1

En archeé eén ho logos At first the news was spoken {everywhere} kaí ho logos eén pros ton Theón and the news was about God being close at hand kaí Theos and God eén was {involved} in ho logos what was being said.

 

JOHN 1:2

Hoútos eén en archeé This same {message} started. prós tón Theón when God was close at hand.

 

JOHN 1:3

Pánta di autoú egéneto Everyone was being drawn through {this message} kaí choorís autoú egéneto oudé hén hó gégonen however, none of those being drawn was able to come apart from Him {God}.

 

JOHN 1:4

En autoó zooeé eén In it {the message} was {felt} a genuine spiritual life kaí hee zooeé eén tó Foós toón anthroópoon and this spiritual life came to men by revelation of the truth.

 

JOHN 1:5

Kaí  tó Foós en teé skotía faínei  And the knowledge of the truth shines in the obscurity and dimness of sin kaí  hee    skotía   autó ou   katélaben   and dimness of sin,  did not eagerly lay hold of and seize possession of it.

 

The Meaning of John 1:1-5

 

John 1:1-2 is so badly mistranslated one could do an entire treatise explaining it.  My goal is simplicity and to achieve this, I aim to use as few words as possible in the explanation.  Most people make the mistake of trying to understand these verses by researching the meaning of the Greek term (logos) used for, “word,” (in the beginning was the Word…).  This is like putting the cart before the horse because it does not establish the exact time frame John writes about.

 

To determine the time frame I began by seeking to understand the meaning of the Greek word translated as beginning (i.e. – In the beginning…).  The Greek word for beginning is archeé.  This word archeé is akin to the same word cognate from whence comes the word, “archangel.”  An archangel is by definition a chief messenger. Archeé also means to commence or commencement.  This Greek word archeé has a wide range of definitions and applications and only the CONTEXT determines the correct usage.

 

Archeé can refer to the beginning of anything and it is unfortunate Bible translators felt limited in their use and application.  This happens when theology interferes with one’s translating ability.  I hold no animosity toward Bible translators and have the greatest regard for them.  We all have doctrinal prejudices and it is hard not to factor individual bias into one’s interpretation of a word meaning.

 

Unlike Matthew and Luke, the apostle John’s gospel begins at Jesus’ ministry, not at his birth.  Therefore archeé should properly apply to the period of time that commenced or began the messianic activity associated with Jesus’ ministry. When John writes the Greek words, En archeé eén ho logos it is better rendered, “At first the news was spoken {everywhere}…”

 

The reason for this translation is the context; in John 1:1 the antecedent to a text that first mentions the appearing of John the Baptist, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” (John 1:6)  Therefore, instead of translating En archeé as in the beginning a more appropriate rendering would read, “At the first,” or simply, “At first,” is sufficient.  At first there was news spreading about the coming Messiah.

 

Further, the Greek word ho logos, properly rendered as, “the Word,” in the KJV is a woefully inadequate translation because it fails to convey direct relationship to the context; “Word,” is far too generic, lacks expression, and is erroneously capitalized, as the Greek text has no such capitalization.

 

Logos is a Greek noun that means simply means, “Intelligence or thought expressed by speech (i.e. – spoken).”  The range of applications is as diverse as it is with archeé and logos represents HOW people express their thoughts, particularly when there is a reason behind what is being expressed (i.e. – spoken).

 

To illustrate how archeé is used elsewhere in John’s gospel as referring to Jesus’ ministry the text of John 6:64 holds an important key, “For Jesus knew from the beginning (archeé) who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.”  In this text, “from the beginning,” aptly describes the “beginning” of his ministry as the Christ.  Further, in Mark’s gospel we find an IDENTICAL application of archeé with direct association to the beginning of Christ’s gospel (good news herald):

 

Mark 1:1-5 The beginning (archeé) of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2 As it is written in the prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.  KJV

 

The parallels between Mark’s gospel and John 1:6 are glaringly obvious,

 

John 1:6 “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” (NAS) 

 

Mark’s gospel further supports my rendering of logos as meaning, “the news spoken {everywhere},” in that Mark 1:5 says, “And there went out unto him (John the Baptist) ALL the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem.”  If that isn’t news spread everywhere then do tell, what is?  I have added in brackets {everywhere} simply because of the implications; anyone familiar with the Jewish sentiment in Palestine during this period of time will attest to the messianic fervor.

 

In fact so anticipatory was the mood amongst Jews that it was not unusual for families to have an empty seat at certain meals, especially Passover, just in case Messiah should happen to visit them.  Young maidens passed rumors of their earnest desire to give birth to the Christ, and all had hopes they might be chosen as the virgin (unmarried young woman) in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14).  So considering the atmosphere, it is not a stretch to add “everywhere” to explain how the “word” about Messiah was spreading.

 

Logos is used in John’s gospel quite often for a “saying” because it means the testimony of what someone thinks or has experienced, depending on which form (i.e. – verb or noun) it is used. Below are a few sample verses listed from John’s gospel, since his use of logos is more relevant.

 

John 2:22 ”…and the message (lógoo) Jesus had spoken.”  AMP

 

John 4:37 For in this the saying (lógos) holds true, one sows and another reaps.  AMP

 

John 4:39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying (lógon) of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.  KJV

 

John 4:41 Then many more believed in and adhered to and relied on Him because of His personal message what He Himself said (ton lógon auto).   AMP

 

Though Luke’s gospel is written from the perspective of a disciple and not an original apostle, nevertheless he combines archeé and lógos to describe the beginning of the ministry of Christ, starting with mention of the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:1-4.

 

Luke 1:1-4 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning (archeé) were eyewitnesses and servants of the word (lógou), 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. NASU

 

In the New American Standard Updated (NASU) the footnote about lógou in John 1:3 translates this Greek word literally as, “gospel,” and not as, “word.” This should forever settle and end any dispute as to the meaning of John 1:1; clearly the text means the beginning of the gospel message of Jesus Christ, beginning with the message of repentance first preached by John the Baptist, a forerunner of Messiah.  The proof does not end here because John continues his use of archeé just a few verses later, in which he writes of the beginning of Christ’s first miracle at Cana of Galilee.

 

John 2:11 This beginning (archeén) of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.  KJV

 

With all of this immediate proof why would any reasonable person insist that John 1:1 relates to the Genesis 1:1 account of creation?  The only possibility is if they were either a novice student of scripture and unfamiliar with basic biblical hermeneutics, or they have already formed an opinion and/or doctrinal position concerning their interpretation of John 1:1-5. 

 

I am not saying archeé never has implications to the beginning mentioned in Genesis, but not in these aforementioned scripture texts.  Jesus adds one more strong argument as proof that archeé in John 1:1 is the beginning of his 3 ½ year ministry when he promises to return as the Parakletos, or Helper in John 15:27 & 16:3-4

 

John 15:27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning (archeés).   KJV

 

John 16:3-4 "These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.  4 But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning (archeés), because I was with you.  NASU

 

Other NT authors also use archeé to indicate the beginning of ministry, such as when Peter describes the “beginning” (archeé) as the Day of Pentecost when the disciples received the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15).  Paul uses archeé to describe his manner of life as a practicing Jew in Acts 26:4; in fact, this rendering is strong support for my own translation of archeé in John 1:1 as, “At first.”

 

Acts 26:4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first (archeés), among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews.  KJV

 

The apostle John was eyewitness to all that Jesus did and said from the beginning and in fact, his style of writing consistently uses archeé to represent the first span of time when he came to personally follow Jesus at the promised Messiah (or Christ).  1 John 1:1 is a prime example because it is a written epistle (letter) from the apostle John TO the churches and in this introduction he speaks of Jesus as the embodiment of the logos, or news that had been widely circulated amongst Jews in Palestine, all of which were anticipating the coming of the Christ.

 

1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, (archeés), which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word (ho lógou) of life; 2 For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; 3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.  KJV

 

The body of text you just read describes the apostle John’s eyewitness experience with Jesus Christ the man from the FIRST part of his ministry, until the time he was taken up into the heavens, where he is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

 

John 1:1-5 At first the news was spoken {everywhere} and the news was about God being close at hand and God was involved in what was being said.  2 This same {message spoken} started when God was close at hand.  3 Everyone was being drawn through {this message}; however, none of those being drawn was able to come apart from Him {God}.  4 In it {the message} was {felt} a genuine spiritual life and this spiritual life came to men by revelation of the truth.  5 And the revelation of the truth was appearing amid the obscurity and dimness {caused by sin}, and the obscurity and dimness {caused by sin} could not grasp what it meant.   (The Appropriate Translation)

 

The spiritual life that was experienced amongst Jews that were truly the seed of Abraham, by virtue of the sincere faith during the months, weeks and days preceding the appearance of Jesus as promised Messiah must have been awesome.  This is why John 1:1 reads, “At first the news was spoken {everywhere} and the news was about God being close at hand and God was involved what was being said.”  God was truly involved in this news, as John 1:1b says.

 

God was truly, “close at hand,” as rumor of the long-awaited Messiah spread across countryside villages, towns and cities.  Everyone was being drawn through this message; however, none of those being drawn was able to come apart from God because God knew those who were truly His own, and those whose pretense of religiosity was simply a façade for their greed, avarice and lust for power.

 

The message of the Christ was infused with the Presence of Yahweh and the true believers, Jew and Gentile alike, knew what it meant because they felt a genuine spiritual life and this spiritual life came to them by revelation of the truth in scripture, which even proselytes to Judaism could hear read every Sabbath in synagogue.

 

However, the Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, and Sadducees perceived this message spreading like wildfire to be a threat when it came to the door of their life and stony hearts.  And so, in closing, I tell you with great confidence the revelation of the truth was appearing amid the obscurity and dimness caused by the sin of unbelief amongst the religious elite, and the obscurity and dimness caused by sin among these self-righteous gasbags could not grasp what it meant.       

 

SELAH…pause, take time to think about what you just read J Love you guys!

 


 

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