Are both readings plausible or is it clear from the grammar (not just the context) which is correct?

New American Standard Bible There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

King James Bible That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] Ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.

And how might this be related to verses 4 and 5?:

BSB 4In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Note: Please do not opine on the Greek question unless you have relevant Greek skills. Thanks.

4 Answers 4


Ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.

ἐρχόμενον is accusative masculine singular, meaning it refers to "each" (πάντα—accusative masculine singular) "man" (ἄνθρωπον—accusative masculine singular) as in "every man."

Its sense is, therefore: "[all men] that come" ("into the world...," and so on).

It cannot refer to the neuter "light" (φῶς). This would be equivalent of writing, "His name is Paul, and it authored most of the epistles in the New Testament." Either you are abruptly introducting a new object/subject, redefining the gender of the subject; or, as I can only suspect is the case with some translations, referring back to a subject of which the beginning of this sentence is a description (namely, the Word is a "he," but is also "the Light," which is neuter). (If nothing else, 1:8 shows us "the light" can be mistaken for a masculine person—ἐκεῖνος and so it isn't unreasonable to translate it the 'other' (NASB) way, taking the above into consideration).

However, the straightforward reading is "That was the true Light which enlightens every man that comes into the world." At least, isolated, it needs to be translated this way (i.e. unless the one for whom "the light" is a title or description is nearby identified, and as masculine).

In other words "the light, having come into the world,..." is a contextual, rather than theological, interpretation.

The relation of life, light and the Logos it concerns, is a wholly theological one, but that doesn't mean St. John doesn't elsewhere speak of it, and therefore 'agnostic' hermeneutics apply.

Namely, in John 8:12, he relates something Jesus said about Himself:

John 8:12

Πάλιν οὖν αὐτοῖς ἐλάλησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου ὁ ἀκολουθῶν ἐμοὶ οὐ μὴ περιπατήσῃ ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ ἀλλ’ ξει τὸ φῶς τῆς ζωῆς

Again therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world: they that follow me shall not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

This seems to indicate that the "light" spoken of by John, which he evidently gets from Jesus; that is, the "enlightening" of every man (Jn 1:9); means vivification, quickening. That is, "light of life" means either that the light is the life, or that the light is the full enjoyment of life—true life.

Jesus, of course, is giving moral weight to the terms 'dark' and 'light.' And many throughout the centuries have seen in Genesis 1:4, taken with John 1:5 from being the divide between good and evil in general, but more specifically (or at least one specific example) the evil (or reprobate) angels and the good angels, and those who are of, or support, the respective of sides (cf. Wis 2:24; Mt 6:21-24).

This seems to be related to the quote-unquote theology of personified Wisdom (cf. Lk 7:35; 11:49), where She is said to permeate and comprise all things (very much in line with Greek thought on the common Logos which 'binds' all things—the presupposition that underlies all, if you will; reason, logic: "without Him was made nothing that has been made," although John clearly has a spoken "Word" in mind if not exclusively, then primarily). See Wisdom 7:24-27; cf. Hebrews 1:3.

  • Does Jesus' assertion that only those who follow him will have the light of life suggest that not every man is "enlightened"?
    – Ruminator
    Oct 20, 2017 at 23:54
  • John 8:12—Not all follow Jesus therefore, necessarily, not all "have" the "light of life." But here Jesus makes Himself "the light." So not all "have" Jesus in the fullest sense, as in Christian born again union with Him. But John 1:9 does seem to indicate that the Light does "lighten" every man who comes into the world, at the very least in some preliminary way: e.g. give life/a soul/nephesh (at the first birth) (Gn 2:7), as I interpret it. "Having" the light of life means true guidance to the fulfillment of the first "enlighten"ing at our coming into the world. As I see it. cf. Jn 12:35. Oct 21, 2017 at 14:24
  • "Almost thou persuadest me"... Based on the link below though, shouldn't the last clause be preceded by the definite article "o" if it is adjectival of "every man"?: wikichristian.org/wiki/en/…
    – Ruminator
    Oct 22, 2017 at 23:20
  • I disagree with your first point about agreement. I think it agrees with "the one enlightening all men".
    – Ruminator
    Oct 22, 2017 at 23:29
  • 1
    Hmm, I thought one could mark more than one as an answer - yikes, I think I've been mismarking all along. Oh well. I marked yours as THE answer now.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 23, 2017 at 16:41

In Greco-Roman Stoic philosophy which was at the height of popularity and influence at the time of Jesus ministry1, it was believed that πνεῦμα (pneuma) was present along with the Logos or Word (see John 1:1) at creation. This was believed to be made up of fire or light and was believed to be a life-giving force.

So, While a rock might be created from Logos alone, Animalkind and Mankind were additionally imbued with πνεῦμα (pneuma). Hence, when John 1:9 says that "φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον", a better translation to capture the meaning and intent might be "gave the spark of life to every man".

In modern Western society however, we do not associate light or fire (φωτός) with life and do not believe that φωτός has some sort of life-giving quality. Furthermore, φωτίζει means to broadcast light. As such, the NASB's translation can be particularly misleading as it may be misunderstood not as illuminating men (which is already a misunderstanding of the meaning) but instead providing them with understanding or wisdom. At least in the case of the KJV, the translation reflects the literal meaning of the word, even if it doesn't reflect the life-giving meaning held by Stoic philosophy.

With this context in mind, it is clear that the light (φωτίζει) is coming into the world and is imbuing every man with life. This means that "the one coming into the word" is correct inasmuch as a similar substance (such as water, for example) can be regarded as "one". Just as "the one water coming into the world" is grammatically awkward, so it is with the light (φωτίζει). But then, we must remember that the light that is coming into the world is then giving life to mankind. In this regard it might be more appropriate to say that when the light is coming into the world it is animating creation.

In short, though you don't realize it, you are asking in your title, "should it be translated as just the first part of the verse, or the last part of the verse." But the answer is both, otherwise you are left with half of the original verse. The "one" coming into the world is animating every man who comes into the world.

John 1:9 is also related to verses 4 and 5 in that it is saying that in the Logos/word/Jesus was the πνεῦμα (pneuma) or life-giving light force which pierced the darkness of the earliest part of creation and gave life to mankind.

1 See this answer for further reading on this topic.


Actually, the Greek term is ambiguous, because "every man" is treated as a unit, therefore the verb is third-person singular whether it refers to "the light" or "every man,".

Greek nouns inflect according to their grammatical gender, but third-person verbs do not. ἐρχόμενον could be masculine, feminine, or neuter. Verb endings only denote Case, person, and number.

Every translator must make a choice which rendering they find more likely. Some have decided it is "the true light" that is coming into the world for contextual reasons and the common Biblical description of the Christ as "coming into the world" (particularly in the Gospel of John itself), others have said it is "every man" due to a common use of that phrase to describe birth in Rabinic literature.

Fortunately, if the whole passage is taken into consideration, neither rendering changes the thrust of the passage - the word was God, the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory - glory as of the only son of the father.

  • On this site it isn't acceptable to declare Greek rules to be what we say they are. It is required that you cite a respected source such as a grammar that says that it is the way the language works. Please cite your source(s). It would also be helpful if you indicated your level of education in Greek. Thanks and welcome to the site.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:08

en to phos to alethinon ho phwtitsei panta anthrwpon erchomenon eis ton kosmon.

[Stephens 1550 Text]

[That] was the Light, the true, that lightens all humanity coming into the world.

[Interlinear translation of the EGNT (Bagster).]


  • You should reference the source of the transliterated Greek?
    – enegue
    Sep 25, 2017 at 0:28
  • Thanks for taking the time to add references. It would be handy if the downvoters had left some reason for their action, but unfortunately "no comment" is often par for the course here. I have found an online copy of the EGNT (Bagster), but the Greek is not transliterated as you have it. Are you doing the transliteration yourself, or is your copy of EGNT different to the online version I have linked to?
    – enegue
    Sep 29, 2017 at 0:49
  • I have added a definite article where EGNT missed it out; missed out "which" as I thought it superfluous, added [That] for the sake of idiomatic English, and given "humanity" for anthropos instead of "man". But I notice I have changed "every" for "all" regarding panta and I am thinking about that.I have a very high regard indeed for EGNT.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 29, 2017 at 13:53
  • Simply quoting an interlinear does nothing whatsoever to resolve the difficulty of the passage.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 20, 2017 at 23:52

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