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John 1:1-17, literally

(Garth D. Wiebe, March 2015, added John 1:1 comments February 2020)

What follows is a hyper-literal rendition of John 1:1-17. In particular, two points come out of this. First, the typical translation of John 1:1 "...and the word was God" is a disservice to the original rendering, which in the original describes God as continuing to be the word. The second point is that the typical English translation of John 1:14, "the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory," brings to mind an image of the incarnation and ministry of Jesus in the past, whereas the actual text brings to mind the word become flesh that dwells in us (in the plural "us") that we now behold the glory of.

Again, it is Koine Greek verb tenses and voices that don't map one for one to English.

The Koine Greek verb tenses:

The Koine Greek verb voices: The Koine Greek verb moods: Here's my hyper-literal translation of John 1:1-17, keeping faithful to the Greek verbs, at the expense of being unfaithful to proper English grammar and punctuation. There is no punctuation in the original Greek text, although I kept the verse numbers (added in the 16th century, A.D.), to make it easier to follow along. Also, I rendered the pronoun "auto" as "same," since that is what it means in the Greek, instead of converting it to an English personal pronoun (he/him/etc.) Koine Greek also has no indefinite article ("a/an"), and I tried to leave out implied pronouns of verbs wherever I could:

John 1: [default: indicative mood, active voice]

[1] in origin has-been-being [imperfect tense] the word, and the word has-been-being [imperfect tense] toward the God and God has-been-being [imperfect tense] the word

[2] this has-been-being [imperfect tense] in the origin toward the God

[3] all through same is-become [aorist tense, middle voice] and apart-from same is-become [aorist tense, middle voice] not yet one which has-become [perfect tense]

[4] in same life has-been-being [imperfect tense] and the life has-been-being [imperfect tense] the light of men

[5] and the light in the darkness is-appearing [present tense] and the darkness grasps [aorist tense] it not

[6] is-become [aorist tense, middle voice] man having-been-commissioned [perfect tense, passive voice] beside God name to-same John

[7] this come [aorist tense] into witness that may-witness [aorist tense, subjunctive mood] about the light that all may-believe [aorist tense, subjunctive mood] through same

[8] that-one not has-been-being [imperfect tense] the light but that he-should-testify [aorist tense, subjunctive mood] about the light

[9] has-been-being [imperfect tense] the true light which is light-izing [present tense] every man coming [present tense] into the world

[10] in the world has-been-being [imperfect tense] and the world becomes [aorist tense, middle voice] through same and the world knows not [aorist tense] same

[11] into the own-s comes [aorist tense] and the own-s not takes-near [aorist tense] him

[12] who-all yet take [aorist tense] him he-gives [aorist tense] to same authority to-be-become [aorist tense, middle voice] offsprings of God to the believing [present tense] into the name of same

[13] who not out of-bloods neither out of-will of flesh neither out of will of-man but out of-God are-becomed [aorist tense, passive voice]

[14] and the word flesh becomes [aorist tense, middle voice] and tabernacles [aorist tense] in us and we-behold-to-ourselves [aorist tense, middle voice] the glory of-him glory of-only-becomed beside father full of-grace and of-truth

[15] John is-witnessing [present tense] and has cried [perfect tense] saying [present tense] this-one has-been-being [imperfect tense] whom I-say [aorist tense] the behindly me coming [present tense, middle or passive voice] in-front-of of-me has-become [perfect tense] that first of me has-been-being [imperfect tense]

[16] and out of-the filling of-him we all take [aorist tense] and grace in-place-of grace

[17] that the law through Moses is-given [aorist tense, passive voice] the grace and the truth through Jesus is-become [aorist tense, middle voice]
Although this is quite awkward to read in (improper) English, you can see that it brings out more detail. The typical English translation is a discourse mostly in the English past tense. At the end of John 1:1 it has the "word" having been "God" in the past:
...και θεος ην ο λογος
...kai theos en o logos (transliteration)
...and the word was God (past tense, switching the original word order)
First, the Greek word λογος is more general in its semantic range than just "word." See for the full ancient Greek definition of λογος. In such an instance as this where we know it is more than just a verbal utterance, a better translation of λογος might be "expression," taking it above merely the idea of a verbal utterance, which English "word" usually implies by itself in a mundane way. Put another way, it is the "expression/principle/thinking/statement" of God.

Then, John 1:1 is always translated to conform to straightforward English writing conventions but really there are two subtleties left out by doing so. The first is that the verb is in the imperfect tense, so would properly be translated "has been being." The English past tense does it a disservice, since one could always ask, "It was the case but is it still the case?" The imperfect tense conveys something that started and then continues from that point. It is troubling that Bible translators often lump the Greek perfect, imperfect, and aorist tenses together and translate them all so often with English past tense, though they are different, and Greek has no "past tense" to begin with, as English does. But, hyper-literally, we can translate it

"in origin has-been-being [imperfect tense] the word, and the word has-been-being [imperfect tense] toward the God and God has-been-being [imperfect tense] the word"
This also reveals a problem with the habitual English translation flipping of the word order in the last phrase, και θεος ην ο λογος, which really should be "and God has-been-being the expression/principle/thinking/statement." Translated in the original natural word order, it becomes an even more powerful statement of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would now be even more difficult and more silly, for example, for the Jehovah's Witnesses' NWT to add an indefinite article: "and a god has-been-being the expression/principle/thinking/statement" or even simply "and a god has-been-being the word." Now we don't even need a debate about "Colwell's Rule". Just look at the previous phrase, which has the definite article, "the God," and it flows right from there: "...has-been-being toward the God and God has-been-being the expression/principle/thinking/statement." Obviously, this later flows to verse 14, where the "expression/principle/thinking/statement" becomes flesh. The Son is the expression of God to begin with. The Son is God come in the flesh.

Then, in John 1:14, notice in particular that the typical English translation, "the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory," which brings to mind only an image of the incarnation and ministry of Jesus in the past, whereas the actual text likewise brings to mind the word become flesh that dwells in {us (plural)} that we still now behold the glory of. (Note: This does not imply the deification of man. It is "Christ in {you (plural)}, the expectation of glory" (Col 1:27). He is the deity, not us, even while he dwells in us.)

It's interesting that, once again, it is English that makes things complicated, not the Koine Greek. The Greek word εν (Strong's G1722, "en") means "in" positionally. So, it should be a straightforward meaning that if something is "in us" it is a thing that is positioned "in" the plural group that is being referred to as "us." But the English mind re-interprets "in us" to mean "in each of us."

εσκηνωσεν εν ημιν = "eskenosen en emin = ...tabernacles in us...
The Koine Greek has a word, "each," which is εκαστω (Strong's G1538, "ekasto," dative case inflection). That word could have been used, if it were meant that way, saying
εσκηνωσεν εν εκαστω ημων = "eskenosen en ekasto emon = ...tabernacles in each of us...
But that is not what the text says. The "us" is the one body of Christ, not many bodies of Christ. Neither does he just move around "among" us. He really is "in" us. It's just that the "us" is one body, not many.

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