Note: I am double-posting this from my own question on B-Greek for whomever would like to follow along or participate there.

mGNT 1 John 1:1-3

1 ὃ ἦν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς 2 καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἐφανερώθη καὶ ἑωράκαμεν καὶ μαρτυροῦμεν καὶ ἀπαγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον ἥτις ἦν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἐφανερώθη ἡμῖν 3 ὃ ἑωράκαμεν καὶ ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπαγγέλλομεν καὶ ὑμῖν ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς κοινωνίαν ἔχητε μεθ’ ἡμῶν καὶ ἡ κοινωνία δὲ ἡ ἡμετέρα μετὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

All of the translations seem to have "word of life" in John 1:1, etc., ala:

NIV That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

Now, in addition to my objection to the rendering of LOGOS as "Word" I am wondering if the last phrase should read "message", as in "the living message" or "living communication" or "living expression"? This seems to make much more sense to me. Is that a less natural reading or as natural?

I notice that later he seems to use "message we have heard from him":

1Jo 1:5 MGNT - 5 καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν ὅτι ὁ θεὸς φῶς ἐστιν καὶ σκοτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδεμία

In verse 1 he says John says he is relating what he learned from his time associating with Christ. "What we have seen and heard, looked upon, handled...".


Jhn 1:18 KJV - 18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

mGNT John 1:18 θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο

The word ἐξηγήσατο/"declared" is used in the LXX to refer to a man "describing" a dream:

Brenton Judges 7:13 And Gedeon came, and behold a man relating to his neighbour a dream, and he said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread rolling into the camp of Madiam, and it came as far as a tent, and smote it, and it fell, and it turned it up, and the tent fell.

IE: He used words, probably hand motions to "paint a picture with words" regarding something that the other had never seen.

No one has seen God but, in his life and words Jesus described the one true God.

Other references to the messiah expressing the Father (IE: God):

Jhn 12:41; Jhn 14:9; Jhn 17:6,26; Gen 16:13; Gen 18:33; Gen 32:28-30; Gen 48:15,16; Exo 3:4-6; Exo 23:21; Exo 33:18-23; Exo 34:5-7; Num 12:8; Jos 5:13-15; Jos 6:1,2; Jdg 6:12-26; Jdg 13:20-23; Isa 6:1-3; Eze 1:26-28; Hos 12:3-5; Mat 11:27; Luk 10:22; 1Jo 5:20

What is "τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς"? The "Word of life"? Or, "the living message"?


Also relevant:

[Phl 2:14-16 KJV] (14) Do all things without murmurings and disputings: (15) That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; (16) Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Possibly related:

[Act 13:46, 48 KJV] (46) Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. ... (48) And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.


3 Answers 3


I believe you have at least two problems with trying to translate "τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς" as "living message" in this context.

First, grammatically, "living" is a participle (used in the phrase "living message" as an adjective modifying message/word), and so properly speaking, that English word would translate the participle form of the Greek verb ζάω ("live," such as in Mt 16:16), not the noun ζωή ("life," such as here).

An additional grammatical issue is the basic function and use of the Greek article, as Wallace notes in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p.209-10, italics his, bold is mine):

a) At bottom, the article intrinsically has the ability to conceptualize. Or, as Rosén has put it, the article “has the power of according nominal status to any expression to which it is appended, and, by this token, of conveying the status of a concept to whatever ‘thing’ is denoted by that expression, for the reason that whatever is conceived by the mind—so it would appear—becomes a concept as a result of one’s faculty to call it by a name.” In other words, the article is able to turn just about any part of speech into a noun and, therefore, a concept. For example, “poor” expresses a quality, but the addition of an article turns it into an entity, “the poor.” It is this ability to conceptualize that seems to be the basic force of the article.

b) Does it ever do more than conceptualize? Of course. A distinction needs to be made between the essential force of the article and what it is most frequently used for. In terms of basic force, the article conceptualizes. In terms of predominant function, it is normally used to identify an object. That is to say, it is used predominantly to stress the identity of an individual or class or quality. There are a variety of ways in which the article stresses identity. For example, it may distinguish one entity (or class) from another, identify something as known or unique, point to something physically present, or simply point out. The identifying function of the article covers a multitude of uses.

c) The Greek article also serves a determining function at times—i.e., it definitizes. On the one hand, although it would be incorrect to say that the article’s basic function is to make something definite, on the other hand, whenever it is used, the term it modifies must of necessity be definite.

So this relates to the phrase "τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς" specifically in that the genitive article was included before the ζωῆς; that is, rather than "τοῦ λόγου ζωῆς" (which is perfectly valid Greek to also express "the word of life"), by including the τῆς before ζωῆς as well, it is emphasizing the abstract concept of life (which is already a noun, so does not specifically need "conceptualizing"), and functioning to identify that idea more particularly. Wallace comments on this as well (p.226):

Abstract nouns by their very nature focus on a quality. However, when such a noun is articular, that quality is “tightened up,” as it were, defined more closely, distinguished from other notions. This usage is quite frequent (articular abstract nouns are far more frequent than anarthrous abstracts).

In short, the inclusion of the article argues even more strongly that converting the noun "life" to an adjective "living" is violating the grammatical signal of the article that the nominal concept (the noun) is what is being emphasized. Had the word "life" been the participle as an adjective, "living," or the straight adjective, "alive" (NT Greek I believe uses the participle exclusively to denote the adjective idea), then "living word" would have increased significantly in likelihood as it would have been an adjective the article was attached to (see the next paragraph for an example).

Second, contextually, the concept of "life" is what carries on in v.2. That "life" (as noun, not as adjective for λόγος) is immediately pointed to at the start of v.2 "καὶ ἡ ζωὴ" as the primary subject, which is specifically "τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον" (here, the article before αἰώνιον [which is an adjective, not a noun, that makes a big difference in this case] is simply denoting the second attributive position for the adjective [see Wallace, p.306], meaning "eternal life").

So contextually, it makes no sense to push the genitive form of the noun ζωή to be doing an adjective's role for λόγος (a supporting role), when that noun ζωή is then made the focus. Rather, the word λόγος is supporting the idea of the manifestation and declaration of the concept of life.


There does not seem to be good justification to try to translate the phrase as "living message," and the consistency of translations as "the word of life" has strong support for keeping it so.

On "Meaning" of "the word of life"

While the question here is about translation (between two choices), a comment asks about what the phrasing "means." The genitive of τοῦ λόγου is to accommodate the preposition περί, but the genitive of τῆς ζωῆς is conveying some other idea typical of the genitive case. The human author (who I do take to be John the Apostle, who also authored the Gospel of John) jumps right into this statement as though the audience is familiar with what he is speaking about. This implies that his Gospel is already known by the readers here, for in that Gospel he was clear that:

  • The Logos "became flesh" (Jn 1:14)—a reference to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who is the Word spoken of in John 1.
  • The Logos was "in the beginning" (Jn 1:1a, cf. 1 Jn 1:1a "That which was from the beginning... the Word of life")
  • The Logos was "with God" (Jn 1:1b, cf. 1 Jn 1:2d "that eternal life [which is the life related to the Logos in "Word of life"] which was with the Father")
  • The Logos "was God" (Jn 1:1c)
  • Through the Logos, "all things were made" (Jn 1:3)—so all other things "exist" by the instrument of the Logos
  • In the Logos "was life" (Jn 1:4a)

So that is some background on 1 Jn 1:1's "the Word of life," and that helps the reader see that the genitive phrase "of life" in relation to the Logos is probably one of these ideas (categories taken from Wallace):

  1. Genitive of Content (p.92): i.e. the Logos full of life, or the Logos containing life (not this fits exactly the Gospel's statement of "in Him [the Logos] was life" in Jn 1:4a). This would be saying that all "life" is contained in the Logos (which matches that all existence apart from God Himself is dependent upon the Logos and matches that "eternal life" is all dependent upon the Logos).
  2. Genitive of Apposition (Epexegetical Genitive, Genitive of Definition) (p.95): i.e. the Logos which is life. If this is so, then the idea is emphasizing how the Logos and life are essentially one and the same; the expression (the Logos) is life itself.
  3. Genitive of Purpose (p.100): i.e. the Logos destined for (or moving in the direction toward) life. This emphasizes the intended result of the Logos. While this is true (theologically), the category is rare (according to Wallace), so not as likely a choice.
  4. Genitive of Product (p.106): i.e. the Logos which produces life. This would also be true (theologically), but is also a rare category.

I lean toward #1 as the intended idea, but any of those four I think could be argued.

The primary meaning is pointing the reader back to the previously discussed idea of the Logos in John's Gospel, and how that Logos incarnated (Jesus Christ) is to be made manifest/declared/witnessed of/etc. in relation to eternal life, which life is so that "you also may have fellowship with us, and ... with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1:3).

  • Thanks. It is great to have you back or at least dropping in. We need you! So... any idea what "word of life" means? Note: I consider translating logos as "word" is wholly inadequate: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/34570/13583
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 19:32
  • 1
    @Ruminator No time right now, so I'll have to get back to you on my thoughts for that.
    – ScottS
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 20:20
  • @Ruminator I added a "meaning" explanation. I'm fine translating λόγος as "word," but for purposes of my meaning discussion, I have intentionally left if vague by transliterating it to Logos.
    – ScottS
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 18:01
  • Thanks. I think I'm leaning toward (and this is new, thanks to your help) - "the expression (or "communication") of [everlasting] life [of God]".
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 18:21

I agree that the translation of Logos as simply "word" is often hopelessly inadequate, but not always. BDAG has a huge article about "Logos" which offers three basic meanings:

  1. a communication whereby the mind finds expression. "word", "message", etc would be reasonable here.
  2. a computation, reckoning (Our English word "logic" come from this origin.)
  3. the independent personified expression of God, the Logos. There are several such instances of this such as in John 1:1-18 but also 1 John 1:1, Rev 19:13. BDAG says the same use is implied in Heb 4:12 & 13:7. That is, John effectively uses the above meanings to personify "Logos" as a title for Jesus.

Thus, John uses "Logos" in a narrow technical sense that cannot be translated into English without understanding that "Word" or "Logos" (as per David Bentley Hart's translation) has a special meaning when applied to the Son of God. It is in this sense that "message" or "communication" are just as inadequate as "Word". And this applies to 1 John 1:1.

Jesus as Son of God is also the source of life (John 1:4, 6:35, 11:25, 14:6, 1 John 5:11, 12) and thus He is the "Logos of Life" (1 John 1:1) which John and the other apostles claimed to have seen and touched (1 John 1:1).

1 John 1:5 says that, "this is the message we have heard from him". The word "message" is from the Greek ἀγγελία - a quite different word from "Logos". Thus, v5 appears to make a distinction between the person (="Logos") and the message of the person of Life. Again, there is a big difference between the impersonal "concept of life" (grammatically possible) and the "Logos of Life" as a personification of Jesus.

"Logos" as a title of Jesus the Messiah, is more than just the expression of the Father, although that is contained within the meaning. (If that were the only meaning it would almost amount to modalism.) I would prefer to translate John 1:18c as " … has revealed Him", or " … has made Him known". Thus, Jesus becomes the agent by which the Father is most faithfully revealed.

Lastly, John clearly says that the "Logos" is something that they (John and the apostles) have seen, heard and touched. One cannot do this with a "message of life" but only with the "Word/Logos of life" - a concrete thing. That is, John is taking an abstract noun (Logos) and by personifying it, makes it concrete (in the grammatical sense).

  • Are you saying that "Logos" is untranslatable and so should only be transliterated? It seems to me that a better way to understand it is not that it is "Biblish" (sacred language that doesn't behave English rules or conventions) but simply to recognize that the communication is personified (because he is God's living expression). In Romans 6, for convenience I will indicate that "sin" is being personified in the text by putting "[Mr.] before the word.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 0:37
  • Do the lexicons suggest "has revealed" or "made him known"? "Revealed" would be "apocaluptw" or "efaneraw" (sp?) or something I should think. Not sure off the top of my head about "made him known".
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 0:40
  • The Greek word is ἐξηγήσατο (exēgēsato) from the root word ἐξηγέομαι (exégeomai) is either (from BDAG) (1) "to relate in detail, tell report, describe", OR, (2) "to set forth in great detail, expound". Hence ESV & BLB: "made him known"; NASB: "has explained him"; CSB: "has revealed him"; etc.
    – user25930
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 6:19
  • Hence, the origin of our word "exegete". So again, communication.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 10:11
  • That is correct but the meaning is much more than "communicate" - it means to go into great detail not merely communicate, although one cannot go into great detail without communicating.
    – user25930
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 11:02

There is a problem translating τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς as "the living message", particularly in light of the context of the passage. I'll look at it word by word:

Regarding "Word" vs "message"

I would agree that the translation "word" for λογος leaves much to be desired. However, to be honest, "message" does too, and looking at your linked post from another thread, it seems like you agree. There's a lot of theological baggage that λογος takes on, in Johannine theology in particular, and it's hard to capture in a translation.

So if your question is just about translation into English, I would understand if someone were to translate λογος as "message", as long as they did it consistently throughout Johannine writings to indicate that it's referring to the theologically loaded key term λογος. However, I would still prefer just keeping "word" as is for the sake of clarity, due to the fact that at this point in history, the English speaking Church is used to λογος being translated as Word, and in my opinion unless there's a really compelling reason to the contrary, a good default is to leave translations alone for the sake of clarity.

It appears from your question that you would affirm that λογος is referring to the Christ in 1 John 1:1 though, so regarding the "message" vs "word" translation at least, if the question is not about translation principles but just whether or not at least part of what John means to say is that Jesus as the λογος is a message (ie, His life/actions/etc communicates) then it's hard to disagree with that!

But it seems like the heart of your present question is about...

"Living" vs "of Life"

Again in this case, we have to be careful to distinguish between what exactly we are doing when we are translating vs when we are interpreting. This answer by ScottS rules out rendering τῆς ζωῆς as "living" due to grammatical reasons, since it is not a participle. However, such reasoning assumes 1) we are translating in a woodenly literal manner, which in turn assumes 2) we are talking about translation principles in the first place, rather than trying to discern the meaning of the phrase, which is my assumption (please correct me if I'm wrong). And just for the record, the whole concept of translating in such a woodenly "literal" translation is based on a misunderstanding of how language and translation works in the first place (see here for one discussion on the misunderstanding regarding the pursuit of a "literal" translation; there's videos available too as well as writings by James Barr himself if you're interested).

Accordingly, I would argue that there is no grammatical reason per se against translating the phrase as "the living message". The issue instead is what the context says. Greek genitives by nature are adjectival: they adjectivally modify the head noun (as opposed to datives, which are more adverbial). Grammatically speaking, there are several ways this adjectival relationship could work, including some that are very close to adjectival participles eg, somewhat parallel to how the English phrase "the God of love" can at times be synonymous with the English phrase "the loving God". The issue comes down to context though. In biblical Greek this issue comes up commonly for phrases such as ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ. In English we can see how this works using the phrase "love of God" as a close parallel: depending on the context it could mean something like "the love that comes from God", "the love that [someone] has for God", "the love that God has for [someone]", etc. Grammatically someone could argue that it could even mean "the love that is owned by God" since in English we use "of" to imply possession too (just as in Greek the genitive can imply possession). Similarly, the genitive in Greek has several uses (Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics has list that could be helpful if anyone's interested).

That to say, grammatically, "living" or "of life" or even maybe better "of the life" (if that's how you want to take the article) could all work in 1 John 1:1, it really just comes down to context and the semantics of the words in question.

At this point, I would agree with ScottS, and his citation of Wallace is very helpful. (Wallace wrote his dissertation on Greek articles as well, and does a good job with it). I will defer to ScottS's discussion on why the context of 1 John 1:1 (especially the following verses) implies that τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς does not just that the Word is living.

To add one closing note however: in my opinion translating any genitive into English using "of" lends itself to ambiguity and sometimes confusion. In this verse for example, are we talking about the Word that is owned by the life (genitive of possession), the Word that is the source of the life (genitive of product), the Word that has its life as its source (genitive of source), the Word that is about the life, the Word that is the life, ...? Just to say: I would agree that the context of 1 John 1:1 implies that τῆς ζωῆς is saying more than just that the Word is living. However, "Word of Life" is still very bland. At the same time, going back to translation theory, sometimes that's the best; it lets the interpreters decide on their own, rather than the translator doing all the interpretation for them :)

NOTE: I recognize that to a certain degree this is just an extended comment/addendum to ScottS's very helpful answer, so please pardon me, perhaps I should comment on that answer instead...except this would be kind of a long comment and I can't comment either way since I don't have 50 reputation yet :]

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