I don't think it's a mistake in the NASB. The identity of ὁ λόγος ("the word") in 1 John 1:1 is puzzling and may have been intentionally ambiguous. To make matters more complicated, the syntax of vv. 1-3 is complex and odd. The basic sequence is:
- a string of relative clauses that form the compound object (of a verb not seen until v. 3) (v. 1a);
- a prepositional phrase ("περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς" = "concerning the (W)word of (L)life") of uncertain relationship to the object (v. 1b);1
- a parenthetical expansion on the object of v. 1 (v. 2); and finally
- the subject + main verb ("we proclaim”), etc. (v. 3).
For simplicity, I quote verse 1, omit verse 2, and provide only the essential syntactic elements from verse 3 (NA28 | NASB):
Ὃ ἦν ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς, ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands,
περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς
concerning the Word of Life
ἀπαγγέλλομεν καὶ ὑμῖν...
we proclaim to you also...
There are two apparent clues in verse 1 about the referent that are seemingly contradictory:
The definite relative pronoun (ὃ) is neuter. It is correctly rendered
that which). It is not
the one who(m)). The neuter pronoun may refer to an antecedent that is grammatically neuter or to an abstract antecedent. In the absence a nearby neuter noun, the latter is more natural here.
The witness is emphatically physical. Not only have we seen and touched, but (in case that wasn't clear), we did so with our eyes and our hands. This seems to deny outright that the referent might be an abstraction.
Colin Kruse, in his commentary on 1 John points out that every use of the verbs psēlaphaō (to touch) and theaomai (to look at) outside of 1 John in both the NT and LXX refer to direct, personal, physical contact.2
When the author says, "we proclaim concerning the Word of life", he has in mind something much more than a spoken message...he proclaims a message that has been embodied in a person — the person of Jesus Christ.
I'm not going to be able to resolve this tension, and it seems to me that the author resisted doing so. I agree that "Word of Life" in the NASB indicates that the entire phrase refers to Jesus, and this seems to be one legitimate interpretation.4 If so, it’s likely that the author had in mind a broader sense than the man himself.
The identity of ὁ λόγος here may reflect an understanding similar to Paul's when he insists that "we preach Christ".5 The message and the person have been equated.
1. The two main options, summarized from a note in Marshall's commentary (below), are that the phrase: (i) indicates the theme of the announcement, while the relative clauses state the contents; or (ii) sums up the relative clause. In either case, the identity of the λογος is closely associated with the antecedent of the relative pronoun.
2. Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC;Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), pp. 56-58.
3. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), pp. 99-103.
4. The NASB scrupulously capitalizes all nouns/pronouns referring to any part of the Godhead, a policy that seems to me doomed to entail the sort of interpretive decisions that their formal equivalence policy seeks to avert, but this instance is at least consistent.
5. 1 Cor. 1:23, 15:12; 2 Cor. 1:19, 4:5; Phil 1:15; cf. Acts 8:5.