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47 of the 59 translations of the Bible online are consistent in translating the third phrase John 1:1 as ‘... the Word was God.’. The Greek Bible translated the same as ‘... God was the Word.’

Are both translations the same or different in the truth they convey? If not the same, what is the underlying reason for the difference? Can a serious reader of the Bible reach at the same understanding of the truth behind the two major differing translations?

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    What is "The Greek Bible" that you are referring to? – curiousdannii Nov 6 '19 at 1:56
  • Could you verify your statistic of 47 out of 59 translations please. I am interested in that figure and would appreciate a link to the evidence. – Nigel J Nov 6 '19 at 8:31
  • @Nigel - my apologies for belated response. The following like was used as basis for the statistics: biblegateway.com/verse/en/John%201:1 – Tesfaye Wolde Aug 23 '20 at 17:12
  • @TesfayeWolde Thank you. Much appreciated. – Nigel J Aug 23 '20 at 18:13
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This is a very good question about how Greek uses the definite article differently from English. In summary: "the Word was God" is best. Here's a short explanation as to why:

1. Greek uses "the" much more often than English

John 1:1 in Greek from Bible Hub: (every definite article in bold italics)

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν Λόγος, καὶ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν Λόγος.

Greek uses the definite article (the) much more frequently than English because Greek nouns have case:

There are five CASES in Greek, the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative.

...The case even includes the definite article. That would be like "a" or "the" in English having a different spelling if it was for an object, direct object, subject, possessive, etc. This is part of why so many Greek words also have "the".

Also, there is no indefinite article in Greek (a/an). In Greek, it's all the same.

2. Greek uses "the" with names

If we were consistent in translating "the God" from John 1, then Mark 10:51-52 and John 6:1 would say "the Jesus":

Ἰησοῦς

...There are countless other examples throughout the New Testament with countless other names. Names don't always get the article, but they often do; English never does.

3. Greek doesn't always use "the" with "God"

Notice that in John 1:1 "τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς" the second time "God" appears, it is Nominative (subject) and doesn't have an article. This happens again in v6 in the Genitive (origin) "παρὰ Θεοῦ" (lit. 'from God').

If anything, that is a strong argument for not translating "the God" anywhere else, because Θεὸς is not so dependent on use with an article.

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  • These facts are correct, but I do not see an argument here that proves that either of the translations in the question are either correct, or wrong, or preferred. – Nigel J Nov 6 '19 at 8:33
  • @NigelJ This is a very good thought and you are thinking, which is good. Please keep thinking. But, it actually is enough for people who have studied the original languages and understand them. It didn't make sense to me when I first started Greek, but it is experience that fills in the rest to the conclusion of preference. Also, there never is a "proven" single best translation since language is an art and is highly subjective. This is why we have so many translations and why it is best to study the original languages when possible. Respect to you, should I clarify anything better? – Jesse Steele Nov 6 '19 at 16:14
  • You need to consider what the article does. Daniel B Wallace makes it clear it is a matter of identification. Then you need to consider John's other constructions : 'God Light is' and 'God Love is'. – Nigel J Nov 6 '19 at 16:33
  • True, and I already included all of that, including John's countless other uses and the whole NT. Identification is a matter of noun case. The article can be taken over 30 different ways. But, we can't have a discussion about Greek unless we both know Greek. It seems that you're interested. Learn Greek, go for it, that would be awesome! – Jesse Steele Nov 6 '19 at 17:17
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    I kind of look at it this way. When you say "the Word was God" your describing God's essence or nature. When you say "God was the Word" your denoting or identifying that the Word is a person. – Mr. Bond Nov 8 '19 at 22:53
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Maybe I am too simplistic in my thinking, but to me "God was the Word" and "the Word was God" mean exactly the same thing to me. It is similar to a sentence such as "Jacob was his father" and "his father was Jacob." I cannot see the perceived difference.

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  • My own view is that your thinking is as you say, too simplistic. There is a definite emphasis in 'Theos was the Logos' and this is the original word order in the Greek text. So there needs to be a strong argument to prefer the weaker 'the Logos was Theos'. And there needs to be an argument as to why John did not use his other construction 'God, the light is' and 'God, the love is' in I John. – Nigel J Nov 6 '19 at 8:37
  • Reacting to Michele’s viewpoint, I strongly believe that there is a fundamental difference between the two: ‘... the Word was God’ and ‘God was the Word’. In his 1st Epistle, John told us ‘God is love.’ If we reverse this phrase it becomes ‘love is God’ which doesn’t convey the same truth. I’ll provide the link for the source of the statistics shortly. – Tesfaye Wolde Nov 6 '19 at 14:01
  • They are basically one-in-the-same. It's just John being super clear about that, like in 1 John 1 about there being no darkness in God. – Jesse Steele Nov 6 '19 at 16:16

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