The original manuscripts were not punctuated. Thus punctuation is interpretation not textual authority.
1However, before punctuation was used, Christians and non-Christians wrote about what had been written. From these writings it is possible to determine how a passage was read. The history of punctuating verse 3 can be divided into three general periods:
Early Church Writings: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν
4th Century - 1960's: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν
Current Critical Text: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν
This reflects the predominant reading but even in the earliest period, as today, both were used. The return to the early reading was explained by Kurt Aland
2in the release of NA 26. He showed the change was for doctrinal reasons and the present reading was most likely the "original."
The doctrinal issues were the persistent misinterpretation by the Gnostics, then the Valentinians, and then the Arians who used ὃ γέγονεν with verse 4 to wrongly interpret the phrase:
What has begun to be in him (the Word) was (his) life...
This interpretation was contrary to Christian doctrine. For example, Ambrose (c. 340-397) wrote against the Arians saying they ignored, "In the beginning..." which he said states unequivocally the Logos was God, and so verse (4) itself speaks to what was made in him."
3Elsewhere he contested their interpretation by quoting Paul:
- The most part of those who are learned in the Faith read the passage as follows: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that has been made." Others read thus: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made." Then they proceed: "What has been made," and to this they join the words "in Him;" that is to say, "But whatsover is has been made in Him." But what mean the words "in Him?" The Apostle tells us, when he says: "In Him we have our being, and live, and move."
This particular response is significant as it shows both readings were used by the Church which means this is an inherent aspect of the original text (see below) and Ambrose showed how the Arian interpretation was contrary to what Paul taught:
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28) [ESV]
If both readings are possible, then ὃ γέγονεν is another example of John's use of verbs in their double meaning.
6The double meaning in this case is necessary because life must come from that which is alive. Unlike the inanimate world which could be created simply by speech, life must come from that which is alive. In other words, God is living so life originates in Him and then flows through Him (see below).
The Post-Creation Answer
The Church's debate with the heretics was on the issue of creation and so those like Ambrose contested a mythological history of creation. Modern day attacks on the eternal nature of the Word typically approach the issue from the position the deity of the Word is contrary to what the Bible says about God elsewhere. In this case, the answer, to the eternal nature of the Word, as Ambrose showed, is found in Paul's speech to the Athenians:
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17)
The God who created is the Lord of heaven and earth: Jesus Christ. He made those who are Gentiles and those who are Jewish; He determined the boundaries of the land given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As John says, without him was not one thing made. Thus the Old Testament is a record of the work of the Word to bring salvation to His creation.
From the standpoint of Biblical history, the Word created life and continued to work until the Word became flesh and was put to death. Nevertheless, today, on the basis of having given Himself for us and having been raised to life, He has life in Him and so is still the source and means through which man obtains eternal life. Therefore, Biblical history confirms the Word is the Eternal One who is always at work to bring eternal life to that which He made.
Flexible and Inflexible Readings
If a text may be read in two ways, then the writer must have been aware of this but failed to force the text to be read in one specific way.
A: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν
[καὶ] ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων
B: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν
[καὶ] ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων
As the autograph was continuous, the reader has the decision where one thought stops and the next starts. Yet as shown above, the writer could have prevented this. Therefore, it is apparent the text has been constructed to give the reader the flexibility to choose either or even both readings (as Ambrose stated).
Despite flexibility, verse 4 is consistent with the other Gospels and links life and light:
Thus the translation runs: 'What has begun to be, in him (the Word) is life.' In other words, all created life has its origins and source in the Word of God. This tallies perfectly with the Gospels: when Christ is said to possess life it is always with reference to the life he gives to creatures and especially to men.
...life had its origins in the Word, but it is envisaged as a state that is participated, and therefore created. But in the next phrase: 'And the life is the light of men,' if we understand the 'light of men' as being the Word of God himself, life is identified with light, the life is no longer of the created order but uncreated.
In addition to connecting life and light, the writer employed a grammatical technique by which the reader is required to understand two equivalent statements:
A: ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
A': ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ τὸ φῶς ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
B: ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
B': ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ τὸ φῶς ἦν ἡ ζωὴ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
However the text begins, it ends requiring both understandings of life and light. This inflexible reading (another of John's double meanings) is an undisputed statement in the original text which also affirms the eternal nature of the Word.
The life was the light... (ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς) logically makes life the subject and light the attribute. The light was the life... (τὸ φῶς ἦν ἡ ζωὴ) reverses the order: light is the subject and life the attribute. This equivalent statement (from the writer), functions to introduce what Jesus will say about Himself and follows the sequence in Genesis, and what is revealed in Isaiah:
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)
Therefore, regardless of how a reader chooses to place ὃ γέγονεν, ...the light was the of life of men, means the Word was the source of life for men and is the source of eternal life for men. It is the writer who says the Word was eternal and is the source of eternal life; which is a restatement of how he began the Prologue and the reason given for writing the Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Through - δι᾽...In - ἐν
The necessity of the flexible reading ὃ γέγονεν is essential to separate men from everything else which was created: it functions like punctuation by limiting how this passage may be understood if the reader looks to the Biblical record of the creation of man:
And God formed the man dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul. (LXX-Genesis 2:7)
καὶ ἔπλασεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον χοῦν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐνεφύσησεν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πνοὴν ζωῆς καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν
If John had not separated man from things made through the Word, then verses 3-4 could be used to say the Word was Himself created:
Wrong: The LORD God ---> The Breath of Life [through the Word] ---> The first man
Right: The Breath of life [in the Word] ---> The first man
ὃ γέγονεν functions as a "hard stop" between δι᾽and ἐν, clearly dividing that which was through and that which was in. Whatever flexibility the reader has, when taken with the Old Testament this shows life in man did not come through the Word. Rather, the breath of life was in the Word who breathed life into the man.
1. Ed. L. Miller, Salvation-History in the Prologue of John: The significance of John 1:3/4, E. J. Brill, 1989, p. 39
2. NET Bible Translator note 7
3. In Psalmum XXXVI, 35
4. St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book III, 593 Chapter 6
5. Paul likely was quoting Epimenides of Crete, but his point is Biblically correct (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:3, 2:10, Revelation 4:11).
6. Oscar Cullmann, Early Christian Worship, Wyndham Hall Press, Reproduced from SCM Press, LTD. 1953, p. 41
7. Some manuscripts like the 5th/6th century Codex Bezae appears to punctuate before and after ὃ γέγονεν.
8. M. E. Boismard, O.P. St. John's Prologue, translated by Carisbrooke Dominicans, Newman Press, 1957, p. 17
9. The article with both zwh and pw makes them interchangeable. "The light was the life of men" is also true. Robinson's Word Pictures of the New Testament