The Prologue to the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1-18)
Felix Just, S.J.

Text of the Greek New Testament +  My Own Hyper-Literal Translation

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος,
καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν,
καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
A 1 In origin was the Word,
and the Word was toward [the] God,*
and god/deity/God* was the Word.
2 This one was in origin toward [the] God.*
πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο,
καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν.
B 3 All things through him came into being,
and without him came into being not one thing.
ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν,
καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων·
καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει,
καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
C What has come into being 4 in him was life,
and the life was the light of humans;
5 and the light in the darkness shines,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης·
οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν, ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός,
ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι’ αὐτοῦ.
οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸ φῶς, ἀλλ’ ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός.
D 6 There was human sent from God; his name was John.
7 He came in/for testimony, so that he might testify about the light,
so that all might come to believe through him.
8 He was not the light, but [.] so that he might testify about the light.
ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν
ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον
ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.
10 Ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν,
καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο,
καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω.
E 9 The true light,
which enlightens every human,
was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world,
and the world through him came into being,
and the world did not recognize him.
11 εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν,
καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον.
F 11 He came into his own [things/realm],
and his own [people] did not accept him.
12 ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν,
ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι,
τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
G 12 But as many as did receive him,
he gave to them authority to become children of God,
to those who believe/trust in his name,
13 οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων
οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς
οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς
ἀλλ’ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν.
F' 13 those who, neither of bloods,
nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of a man,
but of God were born.
14 Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο
καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν,
καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ,
δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός,
πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας·
E' 14 And the Word became flesh,
and tented among us,
and we have seen his glory,
glory like an only-begotten [child] of the father,
full of grace and of truth.
15 Ἰωάννης μαρτυρεῖ περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ κέκραγεν λέγων·
Οὗτος ἦν ὃν εἶπον·
Ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν,
ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν·
D' 15 John is testifying to him and has cried out, saying,
"This was the one of whom I said,
The one coming after me came into being before me
because he was prior to me.
16 ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν,
καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος·
C' 16 Because out of his fullness we all received,
even grace upon/from grace.
17 ὅτι ὁ νόμος διὰ Μωϋσέως ἐδόθη,
ἡ χάρις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐγένετο.
B' 17 Because the law through Moses was given;
the grace and the truth through Jesus Christ came into being.
18 θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε·
μονογενὴς θεὸς
ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς
ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.
A' 18 No one has seen God ever.
The only-begotten God [or only-begotten Son],
the one existing in the bosom/lap of the Father,
that one has revealed [him].

* Note on the Translation of 1:1-2:

My translation here is an attempt (maybe not completely successful?) to point out a curiosity and difficulty in the original Greek of John 1:1c, where the Evangelist writes, "KAI ThEOS HN hO LOGOS."

If the evangelist meant, "and the Word was God" (as it is often translated, capital 'God', in the full Trinitarian sense of later Christianity), he probably would have written "KAI hO LOGOS HN hO ThEOS" (or "KAI hO ThEOS HN hO LOGOS" - essentially saying A=B or B=A). Instead, he wrote "KAI ThEOS HN hO LOGOS," omitting the expected article "hO" in front of "ThEOS."

To understand this Johannine passage, which might seem simple but is actually rather complex, one must understand several differences between Ancient Greek and Modern English, which sometimes provide difficulties in translation. (For those who know a little Greek: In the transcriptions of this note, a capital "H" is used for Greek "Eta," capital "E" for Greek "Epsilon," small "h" for the "aspiration" or "rough breathing" in front of vowels, and "Th" for Greek "Theta").

The first difference/difficulty: Ancient Greek has "definite articles" (in masculine, feminine, and neuter forms - but all equivalent to "the" in English), but it does NOT have any "INdefinite articles" (English "a, an"). In translation, we usually write "the" if the Greek noun is preceded by a definite article, while we often (but not always) have to ADD the word "a" or "an" in standard English when the definite article is missing in Greek (for example, "hO STAUROS" is "the cross," while "STAUROS" alone is "a cross"). So translating "KAI ThEOS HN hO LOGOS" as "and the Word was a god" (as Jehovah's Witnesses do) adds an indefinite article in English that is not explicit in the orinigal Greek text, and may or may not be appropriate in English translation.

A second difference/difficulty: When ancient Greek texts refer to "God" (ThEOS), they usually include the definite article in front, "hO ThEOS," even though translating this too literally sounds strange in English. We usually just say "God," rather than "the God." Thinking of "hO ThEOS" as "the (one and only) God" might help, but still, we do not normally put the" in front of "God." So most English translations simply drop the definite article whenever "hO ThEOS" refers to the Jewish or Christian monotheistic "God." In contrast, in polytheistic contexts, it is sometimes better to translate "hO ThEOS" as "the god" (for example, "He went to the temple of the god" - implying a particular god, maybe Apollo, from among the many gods in the Greek pantheon).

Interestingly, Arabic has a similar curiosity in its development of its God-language, reflecting the transition from pre-Islamic polytheism to Islamic monotheism. In Arabic, "Allah" originally literally meant "the God" (the Arabic definite article "al" is equivalent to English "the"). But today, "Allah" is usually just translated "God," rather than "the god." It is sometimes (falsely) considered the Islamic proper name for God (like Yahweh, or Zeus, or other "names" for God or gods), but it really just means "God" (or again, "the one and only God," in monotheistic thought).

So what did the Evangelist mean in John 1:1c? He certainly did not consider Jesus to be just one "divine being" or "deity" among many others. If he meant "divine" in this broader sense, he easily could have used the related Greek adjective, "ThEIOS," rather than the noun "ThEOS." (See, for example, the adjective "ThEIOS" used twice in 2 Peter 1:3-4, referring to "divine power" and "divine nature"). Other texts in John clearly show that the Fourth Evangelist sees Jesus in a unique relationship with God, calling him "the only-begotten son" (TON hUION TON MONOGENH; 3:16), challenging us to believe "in the name of the only-begotten son of God" (EIS TO ONOMA TOU MONOGENOUS hIOU TOU ThEOU; 3:18), referring to his glory "as of a father's only son" (hWS MONOGENOUS PARA PATROS; 1:14), and even calling him "the only-begotten God" (MONOGENHS ThEOS; 1:18 - another difficult phrase, with several ancient textual variations).

To summarize: The Fourth Evangelist may not yet have thought of Jesus as the "second person of the Trinity" (theological language that took several centuries to develop in early Christianity - itself strongly influence by this Johannine passage); yet John certainly thought of Jesus as "divine" or "deity" or "god" in a unique sense, not merely "a god," or one deity among many. Exactly what he meant in John 1:1c may not be easy to understand, and it is even harder to translate into English because of the difficulties mentioned above. So rather than fixate on any particular English translation, even the best of which might confuse us or lead us astray, we should try to continue deepening our understanding of what John's entire Gospel says about the uniquely close relationship of Jesus and the Father.

[For a much more extensive discussion of these grammatical and theological issues, see the Apologists Bible Commentary, by Robert Hommel.]


The Chiastic Structure of the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18 - hyper-literal translation by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.)
 
A 1 In origin was the Word,
and the Word was toward [the] God,*
and god/deity/God* was the Word
2 This one was in origin toward [the] God.*
B
3 All things through him came into being,
and without him came into being not one thing.
C
What has come into being 4 in him was life,
and the life was the light of humans;
5 and the light in the darkness shines,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
D
6 There was human sent from God; his name was John.
7 He came in/for testimony, so that he might testify about the light,
so that all might come to believe through him.
8 He was not the light, but [.] so that he might testify about the light.
E
9 The true light, which enlightens every human,
was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world,
and the world through him came into being,
and the world did not recognize him.
F
11 He came into his own [things/realm],
and his own [people] did not accept him.
G
12 But as many as did receive him, he gave to them authority to become children of God, to those who believe/trust in his name,
F'
13 those who, neither of bloods nor of the will of the flesh
nor of the will of a man, but of God were born.
E'
14 And the Word became flesh
and tented among us,
and we have seen his glory,
glory like an only-begotten [child] of the father,
full of grace and of truth.
D'
15 John is testifying to him and has cried out, saying,
"This was the one of whom I said,
The one coming after me came into being before me
because he was prior to me.
C'
16 Because out of his fullness we all received,
even grace upon/from grace.
B'
17 Because the law through Moses was given;
the grace and the truth through Jesus Christ came into being.
A' 18 No one has seen God ever.
The only-begotten God  [or Son],
the one existing in the bosom/lap of the Father,
that one has revealed [him].

* Note: See the note on John 1:1-2 above this "Chiastic Structure" section.


See also my PowerPoint presentation on John's Prologue,
presented March 23, 2012, at the "Religious Education Congress" of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles

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This page was last updated on July 7, 2013 .