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I am in a discussion with a Jehovah's Witness regarding the John 1:1–4 passage and the Deity of Christ. He says this:

John 1 did not work out well for you. With the punctuation as found in our critical editions such as NA28 and UBS4, in that passage "what came to be in him was [ην] life."

Here is the New Revised Standard Version:

NRS John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

So, life came into being in him "in the beginning."

What was this life? BDAG says it was "2. transcendent life, life" And also in the entry for "life" - b. of Christ, who received life fr. God J 5:26b

Note that John 5:26 is tied to this by BDAG: NRS John 5:26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; Therefore, in the beginning, the first action of the Father was to give life to the Son.

I would like some insight into the variances of this passage and also as to the correctness of choosing which texts are chosen as superior in quality.

2

There are three distinct ways to punctuate the Greek:

  1. και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν ο γεγονεν / εν αυτω ζωη ην / και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων

And without him was not anything made which was made.
In Him was life;
And the life was the light of men

  1. και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν / ο γεγονεν εν αυτω ζωη ην / και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων

And without him was not anything made.
[What] was made was life in him;
And the life was the light of men

  1. και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν ο γεγονεν εν αυτω / ζωη ην / και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων

And without Him was not anything made which was made in Him.
[He] was life,
And the life was the light of men


The Nestle-Aland "Critical Text" upon which the ESV, NASB, NIV, and other translations are based follows the second reading:

καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν.
ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν,
καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων·

The Textus Receptus (Scrivener compilation) more or less follows the third reading:

καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν, ὃ γέγονεν.
ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν,
καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων,

The 1904 Patriarchal Text of the Orthodox Church also follows the third reading:

καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἓν ὃ γέγονεν.
ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν,
καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων.


The Jehovah's Witness' New World Translation is based on the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament, which is neither punctuated nor accented:

και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν ο γεγονεν εν αυτω ζωη ην και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων

Given the NWT version of John 1:3-4:

... and apart from him not even one thing came into existence. What has come into existence by means of him was life, and the life was the light of men.

It would seem that the NWT translators imputed the punctuation:

και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν.
ο γεγονεν εν αυτω ζωη ην.
και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων.

which would conform to the second possible reading above.


The first and third readings are "Orthodox" readings of the passage. The second was considered a heretical reading put forth by the Pneumatomachi, followers of Macedonius. The supposed heresy itself was condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381.

A discussion of the above can be found in a footnote in the Chrysostom Press translation of Theophylact's commentary on John, originally written in Greek. Theophylact is summarizing in part a longer 4th century commentary by John Chrysostom on how to understand the passage. Punctuation did not exist at that time, but Chrysostom discusses where pauses should be understood in the text:

“All things were made by Him.” And that you may not think that he merely speaks of all the things mentioned by Moses, he adds, that “without Him was not anything made that was made.” That is to say, that of created things, not one, whether it be visible or intelligible was brought into being without the power of the Son.

For we will not put the full stop after “not anything,” as the heretics do. They, because they wish to make the Spirit created, say, “What was made, in Him was Life”; yet so what is said becomes unintelligible. First, it was not the time here to make mention of the Spirit, and if he desired to do so, why did he state it so indistinctly? For how is it clear that this saying relates to the Spirit? Besides, we shall find by this argument, not that the Spirit, but that the Son Himself, is created by Himself. But rouse yourselves, that what is said may not escape you; and come, let us read for a while after their fashion, for so its absurdity will be clearer to us. “What was made, in Him was Life.” They say that the Spirit is called “Life.” But this “Life” is found to be also “Light,” for he adds, “And the Life was the Light of men.” ( Ver. 4.) Therefore, according to them the “Light of men” here means the Spirit. Well, but when he goes on to say, that “There was a man sent from God, to bear witness of that Light” ( vers. 6, 7 ), they needs must assert, that this too is spoken of the Spirit; for whom he above called “Word,” Him as he proceeds he calls “God,” and “Life,” and “Light.” This “Word” he says was “Life,” and this “Life” was “Light.” If now this Word was Life, and if this Word and this Life became flesh, then the Life, that is to say, the Word, “was made flesh, and we beheld” Its “glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father.” If then they say that the Spirit is here called “Life,” consider what strange consequences will follow. It will be the Spirit, not the Son, that was made flesh; the Spirit will be the Only-Begotten Son.

And those who read the passage so will fall, if not into this, yet in avoiding this into another most strange conclusion. If they allow that the words are spoken of the Son, and yet do not stop or read as we do, then they will assert that the Son is created by Himself. Since, if “the Word was Life,” and “what was made in Him was Life”; according to this reading He is created in Himself and through Himself. Then after some words between, he has added, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father.” ( Ver. 14.) See, the Holy Spirit is found, according to the reading of those who assert these things, to be also an only-begotten Son, for it is concerning Him that all this declaration is uttered by him. See when the word has swerved from the truth, whither it is perverted, and what strange consequences it produces!

  • This is a question about the Greek text, not about anachronistic, later Christian interpretation – Dan Jan 30 '17 at 23:33
  • 4
    The Greek text is not punctuated, so one must discern the writer's intent. One could argue that the Church is an authoritative source for such discernment, since the Church determined the canon of Scripture and placed John's Gospel within it in the first place. – user33515 Jan 31 '17 at 20:26
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange user18368, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor Feb 1 '17 at 10:36
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Disclaimer: My Koine skills are extremely limited. Also, I'm neither a Trinitarian nor a JW.

I don't find the following part of the RSV's reading plausible:

"What has come into being in him was life"

The reason I object is that it doesn't deal credibly with the preposition ἐν. If we want to use that punctuation and properly deal with ἐν it should read:

"Among the things having been brought about in him was life"

The problem with this reading is that John isn't discussing the things made in him but rather the things he made in Genesis 1.

The NWT version does remain in harmony with the context by taking ἐν as indicating agency:

"What has come into existence by means of him was life"

If we massage that a little to take into account the ἐν at the beginning of the sentence we get:

"Among the thing that have come into existence by means of him was life"

But the logos ("utterance") is a "thing" so it and "life" is a human male so perhaps:

"Among the things that have come into existence by means of it was a life"

However, this does not mesh with the context that follows so I would go with the other punctuation:

"None of the things made in Genesis 1 were brought into being apart from it (of those things that were made). By means of it was a living being and that living being was the light of men".

John will repeat the thought in verse 14:

New International Version John 1:14 The Word ["divine utterance"] became flesh ["a human"] and made his [its] dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

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Modern writers use punctuation and paragraphs to separate and organize thoughts and to identify changes or shifts in the text. Of course at the time it was written punctuation was not yet in use. While ancient writers did not use or have these conventions, they did employ other techniques. In particular a chiasm was a common structural device/form:

Definition of chiasmus (or chiasm) 1
Robert Norrman: the use of bilateral symmetry about a central axis.
Brad McCoy: the use of inverted parallelism of form and/or content which moves toward and away from a strategic central component.

McCoy notes that the prologue of John was arranged as a chiasmus: 2

A: The Word with God (1-2)  
 B: The Word's role in creation (3)  
  C: God's grace to mankind (4-5)  
   D: Witness of John the Baptist (6-8)  
    E: The Incarnation of the Word (9-11)  
      X: Saving faith in the Incarnate Word (12-13)  
    E': The Incarnation of the Word (14)  
   D': Witness of John the Baptist (15)  
  C': God's grace to mankind (16)  
 B': The Word's role in re-creation (17)  
A': The Word with God the Father (18)

The structure highlights the main theme and pairs supporting thoughts before and after. Each supporting thought has a primary and secondary purpose:

  • Primary purpose: Support and/or explain the main theme
  • Secondary purpose: Support and/or explain its corresponding partner

In addition to amplifying or explaining the main theme, each supporting thought has a corresponding partner which is essential to the integrity of the overall structure. This also serves to separate thoughts and functions like punctuation.

A chiastic arrangement is how an author can "punctuate" a passage:3

The Word's role in creation
B: All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (3)
The Word's role in re-creation
B': For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (17)

God's grace to mankind
C: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (4-5)
God's grace to mankind
C': For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (16)

More importantly, the chiastic outline not only separates thoughts, it focuses how each thought is to be understood. Supporting thoughts are secondary; they are meant to be understood from the point of the primary. The main theme is a person's authority to become a child of God. Creation is secondary in terms of the main theme, making children of God. The author's point is that both are works of creation. Life is not to be understood in the limited sense of creation (Genesis). Life is also found in the continued work of The Word: creating children of God.

The mistake of the Jehovah Witness approach to the passage is to make the work of creation the primary point. That is, life came form The Word in creation. Obviously, the author is more interested in writing about The Word's current work of creation, making children of God. If nothing comes into existence except through The Word, then the offer of new life, which is eternal life, is also a work of The Word and for both author and reader, more important than the work of creation.

John 5:26

The OP notes BDAG ties John 5:26 to meaning of life in verse 4. In fact, John 5:26 is a good example of the importance of understanding a verse in terms of the structure.

John 5:26 is the center of a chiastic arrangement on the Son. As such it is meant to be understood in terms of the supporting statements, not as a stand alone statement:

A: Son of God
  X: Son
A': Son of Man

A: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (5:25)

X: For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (5:26)

A': And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (5:27)

The point is the Son is first the Son of God and the Word becomes flesh and the Son becomes the Son of Man. The central theme is the Son has life in Himself. In terms of life there are two essential supporting statements:

  1. The Son of God has the authority to raise the dead
  2. The Son of Man has authority to execute judgment

In order for the Son to have life in Himself, He must have the ability to raise the dead and to execute judgment. If the Son can only create life and give new life (making children of God) and raise the dead to life but has not the authority to judge, then a final judgment of death overrides every work of the Son:

and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (5:29)

In order for the Son to have life in Himself, which results in eternal life, He must:

  • Create life
  • Regenerate life (create children of God)
  • Raise the dead to life
  • Give a judgment of life

1. Brad McCoy, "Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature." p 18 [Chafer Theological Seminary]
2. Ibid p.29
3. All Scripture from the ESV

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