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In John's gospel introduction, Jesus is presented as the incarnate Word and so capitalizing Word there is fitting.

In 1 John 1:1, it seems clear that the 'word' is the message about the Life, and that the LIFE represents Jesus:

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, concerning the Word of Life...

John goes on to write:

... and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us ...

But the word “word" in 1:1 refers to the message about the Life, or the gospel.

Why then does the NASB capitalize both Word and Life in 1:1? (In the next statement where the Life is clearly identified with Jesus, it's back to the small l.) And some editions even have the title "The Incarnate Word" as if the introductions to the gospel of John and 1 John were identical in respect to the use of the term 'word', which they aren't.

Assuming that the NASB translators capitalized both words because they felt the whole phrase was a reference to Jesus, how can this interpretation be justified? If that is not why, on what basis did they capitalize the words?

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  • @ThaddeusB That ^ confuses me a bit because I would have thought that it was clear I was after the answer to both. Being here is really making me have to think about how exactly to type both questions and answers out. It seemed clear in my head. Nov 5 '15 at 22:16
  • Sorry, I think I was editing as you were. Feel free to roll back anything you don’t like. I think there’s a really interesting question here.
    – Susan
    Nov 5 '15 at 23:23
  • @Susan and Thaddeus - thank you both for your help and patience. Nov 5 '15 at 23:28
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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:

  1. The definite relative pronoun (ὃ) is neuter. It is correctly rendered what (= that which). It is not he (=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.

  2. 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.

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  • thank you for your detailed answer. I have recently been reminded by a scholar that there are things in the original languages that are simply not transferable to English, either at all, or not without a lot of gymnastics. Given the conscious decision of the NASB to be as literal as possible to show the reader something of what is happening in the text behind the translation, it makes sense that they could very well be trying to present quite complex and (to us) confusing constructions as best as they can. Nov 6 '15 at 2:10
  • If so, it’s likely that the author had in mind a broader sense than the man himself. - This makes a lot of sense to me. If John means Jesus, and His miracles (which could, for example, be touched), and His teachings (which could be heard), etc. then a pronoun for "all of this" would probably not be a personal one.
    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 6 '15 at 17:37

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