Is there any particular reason why "kai Theós ēn ho Lógos" is translated "and the Word was God" and not "and God was the Word"?

  • possible duplicate of "A god" or "God" in John 1:1? – Wikis May 28 '15 at 4:45
  • @Wikis This is a different question. This asks to distinguish between the subject and the predicate. The other asks whether θεὸς is definite and proper. – Susan May 28 '15 at 8:59

Yes. This is a predicate nominative construction. That is, both θεὸς (God) and ὁ λόγος (the word) are in the nominative case, and they are joined by an equative verb (here, a form of "to be").

John 1:1 (NA28):

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

In English, we generally distinguish the subject (S) from the predicate nominative (PN) in such constructions based on word order. Greek is characteristically loose about word order but shows other patterns for making this distinction. In this case, the subject can be identified if one of the two nominatives falls into any of the following categories:1

  • a pronoun
  • an articular noun (i.e. preceded by the article)
  • a proper name

If both nominatives have such a tag, the analysis is more complex. However, in the case of John 1:1, only ὁ λόγος (the word) — an articular noun — fits.2 Thus, it is correctly translated as in the ESV (and nearly every English translation):

…and the Word was God.

You may (or may not) be interested in considering the semantic distinction between the S and its corresponding PN. Given that they are joined by what I have called an "equative" verb, you may wonder if they should be interchangeable. We know that in English they are not, or you would not have asked the question. Greek is similar in this regard. The most common relationship is what Wallace calls a subset proposition.3 The S is a narrower group within the broader PN. In John 1:1, "the Word" (S) comprises a subset of a larger category called "God" (PN).4

(See also this related question for a defense of the translation “God” rather than “a god.”)

1. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996), pp 42-46.
2. Note that θεὸς (God) is not a proper name in Greek.
3. The less common relationship is that of a convertible proposition in which the equative verb essentially becomes an = sign. This construction can be identified when both nominatives carry one of the grammatical tags marking the subject. This is not the case in John 1:1 (see note 2).
4. If you would like to try this out elsewhere, skip down 13 verses: "the word became flesh." Here this subset relationship is more obvious. "Flesh" is the broader term; it would make no sense to say, "flesh became the word."

  • Susan, (A.) If I am not mistaken, to identify "Word" as the (S)ubject, and "God" as the (P)redicate (N)ominative, you had to make a choice--to apply the "Subset Proposition" rule, or the "Convertible Proposition" rule -- (B.) What brought you to conclude that "God" is a broader "set" than "Word" in Genesis 1:1? (C.) From the text, I can understand how the articular "Word" would narrow it down, and from extant-literature, I could understand how "God, interpreted as 'divine'" would be a broader category-- (D.) but what ruled out "Convertible Proposition" for you? – elika kohen May 27 '15 at 17:43
  • @e.s.kohen Updated answer. Note that I’m basically summarizing Wallace’s argument here. I think most would agree that he has some legitimacy as an expert on syntax, but I don’t doubt that there are those who would disagree with him. – Susan May 28 '15 at 0:54
  • Your final comments about a "subset" relationship was of great interest to me as people generally take the phrase as indicating "identity" which is incorrect. Should I understand this to be a more modern way of expressing the idea of "qualitativeness"? My own reading is "and the utterance was divine utterance" (quality). Does that work with subset? IE: that the feature of the LOGOS being discussed is that it is divinely uttered and therefore irresistable? – Ruminator Sep 18 '18 at 14:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.