I have some questions about the translation and interpretation of John 1:5. I'll start by first reproducing the Greek and then a variety of translations.
καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν. (NA28)
Here are translations from Douay-Rheims, KJV, NIV and ESV.
And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (Douay-Rheims)
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (KJV)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (ESV)
You can see that the main difference is the translation of the verb κατέλαβεν. The NIV and ESV choose to translate this word as "overcome", but the Douay-Rheims and KJV (both from the late Renaissance) choose a different word, "comprehend".
I'm not sure what meaning of "comprehend" is intended here. From its Latin roots, it could mean "to seize", or even possibly "to overcome". But it could also have a more figurative meaning: "to understand". Which meaning is intended here? And how do we know?
I feel that the meaning of "comprehend" determines the meaning of the verse. If it means "to overcome", then the verse is quite simply saying that the light of God has persisted since the beginning of time.
But if the word means "understand", then it means something else: that the light of God is somewhat at odds with or alien to the darkness. This harkens back to the previous verse—"the life was the light of men"—emphasizing the human capacity for comprehension.
I would be interested to learn what κατέλαβεν is intended to mean—"comprehend" in the literal sense or the figurative—and how this affects the meaning of the verse. Any general comments on the verse would also be welcome, especially if they help tease out its meaning.