Translation: John [1:1-32]

Here is my translation of the beginning of the Gospel of John [1:1-32] just for the heck of it. I paid especial attention to the effect that the wording of the original must have had on its contemporary audience. 

In the beginning was the Way1, and the Way was with God; and the Way was what God was. It was with God from the beginning. By him all things came to be and not one thing that has come to be did not do so through him. In him was life and that life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the dark, and the dark cannot master it. There came a man, tasked and sent by God, named John. He came as a witness, to give testimony about the light, so that all would trust in him and believe through him. He himself was not the light, but came merely to give testimony about that light- the true light that enlightens all people, coming into the world. 

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, but the world did not recognize him. He went amongst his own, but his own people did not accept him. Though to such as did accept him, and did believe in his name, he bestowed the power to become God's children, sired not in blood, nor by desire of the flesh, nor yet desire of a husband, but by God. The Way became flesh and resided among us. We beheld His glory, a glory such as that of a Father's only Son, replete with favor and truth. John pointed him for him, crying "This is the one I was talking about when I said 'He that comes after me is in fact ahead of me, for he preceded me.'" For from his abundance, we all received grace upon grace. Whereas the Torah and the Law3 were handed down from Moses, so grace and truth were realized through Joshua4 the Messiah. No one has ever beheld God. It is the only Son, in the bosom of the Father, who has demonstrated Him. 

And this is John's testimony from when the Jews sent chief priests and temple functionaries5 from Jerusalem to ask him "Who are you?" He confirmed, and did not deny but rather confirmed "I am not the Messiah." They asked him "Well then, what? Are you Elijah?" And he said "I am not." "Are you a prophet, then?" And he answered "no." So they said to him "Well, who are you? Give us an answer to report back to those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?" He said "I am the voice of someone shouting in the desert 'prepare the highway of the Lord' as the prophet Isaiah once said" And those who had been sent were from the Legalist sect. They asked him "What are you doing giving ablutions6, if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, and no Prophet" John answered them "I perform ablutions with mere water, but in your midst there is one you do not know- it is he who shall come after me and whose place is ahead of me, and whose very sandal strap I am unworthy to untie." This all happened in Bethany, across Jordan, where Johan was giving ablutions.  The next day, he saw Joshua coming and said "Look: the scape-lamb of God who shoulders the sins of this world. This is the one of whom I said 'after me there comes a man who is preferred before me, because he existed before me' I did not know him, but this is why I came abluting with water- so that he might be revealed to all Israel" 

And John testified further, stating "I saw the Spirit itself descending like a dove from on high, and it alighted on him."


1: There is a colossal, and somewhat tedious, body of writing about the many meanings, and changes of meaning over time, of the Greek word λόγος. The word in the context of this text, however, is an appropriation from Greek Stoic philosophy, as is the use of it in relation to the operations of the divine monity. Λόγος is used this way, for example, in the Stoic poet Cleanthes' "Hymn to Zeus," in which the Thunderlord is divested of anything notably polytheistic and is presented as an ultimate and single Uncaused Cause that governs all existence. There are a number of readily available English options for translating the sense of the word. Candidates include principle, reason, way and so forth. I have chosen to use The Way because it encompasses a greater semantic range than the other possibilities, and also because of its established use as a translation of 道 Dào in rendering Taoist texts. There is a siginificant amount of overlap between the semantic ranges of Chinese  and Greek λόγος, so much so that Chinese Biblical translators have often used 道 to render λόγος in this passageThe traditional translation of the term as "Word" in English Bibles is an artifact of slavish literalism, traceable ultimately to Jerome who used Verbum in Latin, which does not correspond to the sense, intended or coincidental, of Greek λόγος anymore than English "word" does. Medieval and Early Modern translators, even if they weren't translating directly from Jerome's Vulgate, were nonetheless heavily influenced by it.

3: The Greek νόμος means "law" but often in a more generalized sense than the laws passed by a governing entity. It can be used to refer to the principles that govern behavior, rather like "custom" or "the way one ought to do things" in English. (C.f. Arabic ناموس Nāmūs "natural law, principle", a medieval borrowing from Byzantine Greek.) It is also, however, clearly used in the Hellenistic period in the sense of "law" as English-speakers commonly understand the word. Νόμος was also the term for "Torah" among Greek-speaking Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and this is surely also to the point given the audience of this text. The ultimately stereotyped rendering of Torah as νόμος however, was not without its problems, and in other early texts (particularly St. Paul) these problems become acute as it is not altogether clear whether νόμος is to be taken in any given instance as a Greek loan-translation of Torah, or within the broader semantic range the word normally had in Greek. There exists a colossal body of scholarly writing and polemical blasting about the validity, or lack thereof, of equating νόμος with Torah. To me,  it seems the issue has been allowed to get overly convoluted. I have for lack of a more satisfying option inserted both "Law" and "Torah" into the translation. Maybe eventually I'll think of something better.

6: The Greek βαπτίζω here normally rendered as "baptize" by biblical translators. At best this is a forgivable anachronism of the kind one might expect from a translation tradition motivated as much by spiritual and theological concerns as by scholarly ones. At worst, it is a relic of the long-standing anti-Jewish prejudice which motivated Christian translators to distance everything they held sacred from everything Jewish as much as they possibly could. 
Of course, the earliest audience of this text wouldn't have known about baptism in the Christian sense of the English word anymore than Jesus would have thought of himself as having been born in the West Bank but raised in Israel. The referent is Jewish ritual washing, as is clear from the context of the passage in which one Jew is talking to another Jew. Greek-speaking Jews of the Roman period normally used βαπτίζω in this sense, as did the Jewish translators who produced the Septuagint.

The Original:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.  οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.  πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. 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.

 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.  ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.

 Ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω.  εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν, καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον.  ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν, ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι, τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,  οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς ἀλλ’ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν.

 Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας·  (Ἰωάννης μαρτυρεῖ περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ κέκραγεν λέγων· Οὗτος ἦν ὃν εἶπον· Ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν·)  ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν, καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος·  ὅτι ὁ νόμος διὰ Μωϋσέως ἐδόθη, ἡ χάρις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐγένετο.  θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

 Καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Ἰωάννου ὅτε ἀπέστειλαν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐξ Ἱεροσολύμων ἱερεῖς καὶ Λευίτας ἵνα ἐρωτήσωσιν αὐτόν· Σὺ τίς εἶ;  καὶ ὡμολόγησεν καὶ οὐκ ἠρνήσατο, καὶ ὡμολόγησεν ὅτι Ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ χριστός.  καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτόν· Τί οὖν; σὺ Ἠλίας εἶ; καὶ λέγει· Οὐκ εἰμί. Ὁ προφήτης εἶ σύ; καὶ ἀπεκρίθη· Οὔ.  εἶπαν οὖν αὐτῷ· Τίς εἶ; ἵνα ἀπόκρισιν δῶμεν τοῖς πέμψασιν ἡμᾶς· τί λέγεις περὶ σεαυτοῦ;  ἔφη· Ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ· Εὐθύνατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, καθὼς εἶπεν Ἠσαΐας ὁ προφήτης.

 Καὶ ἀπεσταλμένοι ἦσαν ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων.  καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτὸν καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· Τί οὖν βαπτίζεις εἰ σὺ οὐκ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς οὐδὲ Ἠλίας οὐδὲ ὁ προφήτης;  ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰωάννης λέγων· Ἐγὼ βαπτίζω ἐν ὕδατι· μέσος ὑμῶν ἕστηκεν ὃν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε,  ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἄξιος ἵνα λύσω αὐτοῦ τὸν ἱμάντα τοῦ ὑποδήματος.  ταῦτα ἐν Βηθανίᾳ ἐγένετο πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, ὅπου ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης βαπτίζων.

 Τῇ ἐπαύριον βλέπει τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ λέγει· Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου.  οὗτός ἐστιν ὑπὲρ οὗ ἐγὼ εἶπον· Ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεται ἀνὴρ ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν·  κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ’ ἵνα φανερωθῇ τῷ Ἰσραὴλ διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον ἐγὼ ἐν ὕδατι βαπτίζων.  καὶ ἐμαρτύρησεν Ἰωάννης λέγων ὅτι Τεθέαμαι τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον ὡς περιστερὰν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ ἔμεινεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν·


  1. It's a fine translation and I'm going to bookmark it as an example of how to translate Greek without producing clunky translationese.

    Something which I've been wondering lately is why "Ἐν ἀρχῇ" here is always translated as "in the beginning" rather than "in power" or "in primacy"?

  2. Curious. Now I am musing on words and ways and means. Someone once said to me: a man is a word, woman is music -- perhaps this is a saying to explain why women are so drawn to words.

    In Slavonic the "slovo" is pretty clear:

    В началѣ бѣ слово и слово бѣ къ Богу и Бог бѣ слово........

    I am fascinated by the play of words between слово, слог, глагол, etc.--too bad my Russian is not competent enough to write poems in.

  3. I found an interesting article on the subject: