John 1:1 reads:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

(John 1:1, ESV)

The greek reads as follows (as best I can tell; not sure if this is NA or UBS; copied from BibleHub):

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

I am just beginning a second attempt into learning Biblical Greek. I am fairly familiar with some words as a decent student of the Bible, but I am a layperson without seminary/professional training.

It occurs to me that a literal (word-by-word) translation of John 1:1 might be (note, this is only a word-by-word translation, not an attempt at a full translation of the sentence and/or meaning):

In beginning was the word, and the word was with the god, and god was the word.

So, why do we re-order the third clause to be "the Word was God" rather than "God was the Word"?

I ask this because I am aware of the Jehovah's Witness claim that this verse is more correctly translated:

In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

Leaving aside an odd word order choice in the first clause (as well as the multiple other texts where Jesus asserts His full deity), it seems to me that a more literal translation (preserving word order from the Greek) would render the verse:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.

I see this as semantically having the same value as the ESV translation, but without the ambiguity that the Jehovah's Witness crowd would assert.

So, my questions are:

  1. Is there a reason that the original Greek is translated as it is by the ESV and so many others?
  2. Am I missing something, or are most translations simply trying to express a logical thought ("the Word existed in the beginning, with God, equal with God") in language that is natural for English speakers?
  • The question of which this was marked as a duplicate I think gets at the essence of yours by addressing the reason for the choice of word order in published translations (in contrast to what you and the other OP suggest as more literal) -- Question #1 here. If the answer there doesn’t satisfy your second question fully, please ask another question.
    – Susan
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 11:37
  • @Susan Thanks for closing. I actually asked this on the SE Christianity site, not knowing that a hermeneutics site existed. <chagrin>Of course the question you reference is exactly what I'm asking.</chagrin>
    – mbm29414
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 16:36
  • No chagrin necessary - welcome!
    – Susan
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 16:44
  • 1
    @Susan Thanks. Long-time StackOverflow user; new to this site. As a guy who is just beginning an attempt to learn Biblical Greek, I can't tell you how excited I am that this site exists!!!!
    – mbm29414
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 16:45


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