Articles home page

John 1:1 is never translated properly

(Garth D. Wiebe, Feb. 2024)

Here's how to translate the last clause of John 1:1 properly:

...και  θεος      ην          ο   λογος
...and  God  has been being  the  word.

What don't academic scholars understand about the imperfect tense, παρατατικος in Greek?  It represents something that has/was started and continues, i.e. incomplete.  So, translate it that way!  Then you won't have to switch the order of the words around.

To start, there is no "past tense" in the Greek. But logically, if you translate it "...and the word was God," with an English past tense verb, then that just states that it was true in the past.  It does not semantically follow that it is still true!  Then maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses could be right, that Jesus isn't what he was anymore!  The irony about Jehovah's Witnesses botching that verse ("...and the word was a god") is that if it is translated properly using the imperfect tense, mapping to English present perfect continuous/progressive tense, then this is a much more powerful statement of the deity of Jesus Christ, having to do with God "being" the word without ceasing, without completion.  How would the Jehovah's Witnesses now insert an indefinite article, yielding, "In origin has been being the word and the word has been being toward the god and 'a' god has been being the word"?  They like to use the rationalization that the "word" was a "godlike" one.  Note that their theory is of Michael the archangel changing into Jesus the man (and only a man) in the virgin birth, then being annihilated in death, then being re-created as Michael the archangel again (and in this they deny the resurrection, since nothing that died rose).  But now, with the imperfect tense, keeping to the original word order, and agreeing that the "word" corresponds to Jesus (per John 1:14) what are they going to say?  That "a god" "has been being" Jesus?  Now it would follow that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8).

Therefore, the legacy of translation of the imperfect tense into past tense and switching the word order around according to the long-standing translation tradition helps Jehovah's Witnesses.  They can just levy the same sort of complaint as I have, that modern day scholars are just making things complicated, and that their explanation, by contrast, is simple, that the "word was a god" means he was a "godlike" one.  After all, Psalm 82, "you are gods," and Jesus' quotation of it in John 10 as well, does not deify the leaders of Israel.  Nor does Exodus 7:1, "I will make you god to Pharaoh," deify Moses.  Nor does 2 Cor 4:4 deify Satan as "god of this world."  But when θεος is in the subject of the sentence, and λογος is the predicate nominative, then the emphasis is on θεος, God; the intransitive, linking verb ην, and in fact the whole predicate, ην ο λογος, describes a characteristic of God, that he "has been being the word," and then this naturally maps to verse 14.

It is very discouraging to see that our biblical academics continue to follow a status quo established many hundreds of years ago during the protestant reformation, when translators, although pioneers, were beginners at Greek, mostly translating off of the Latin re-translation of Erasmus, since they were fluent in Latin.

Then they create all these complicated explanations to make the Greek fit an English language/grammar mindset!  I understand the desire to translate into good English grammar and style, but when analyzing and discussing Greek itself, English, a language that would not even exist for well over a thousand more years, does not apply!  Yet, in this case, "has been being" is proper English grammar, using the English present perfect continuous/progressive tense.  Awkward English?  Well, just get used to it.  The Bible wasn't written in English!

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.