The Chiastic Literary Structure
In his article, Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature, Brad McCoy discusses chiasms, their use, and their exegetical significance. He defines chiasm (or chiasmus) as the use of inverted parallelism of form and/or content which moves toward and away from a strategic central component.
aHe states The Prologue
bhas this arrangement:
A: The Word with God (1-2)
B: The Word's role in creation (3)
C: God's grace to mankind (4-5)
D: Witness of John the Baptist (6-8)
E: The Incarnation of the Word (9-11)
X: Saving faith in the Incarnate Word (12-13)
E': The Incarnation of the Word (14)
D': Witness of John the Baptist (15)
C': God's grace to mankind (16)
B': The Word's role in re-creation (17)
A': The Word with God the Father (18)
McCoy gives three functions for this literary device:
- Delineates the writer's units of thought
- Accentuates the main idea a writer is concerned to convey to their readers
- Compares and contrasts the interplay between textually separated but thematically paired units of thought
The identification of the Word, ὁ λόγος, must be understood from the perspective of the main theme (1:12-13) and be in congruence with its corresponding partner (1:18):
- A: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This One was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2) [DLNT]
- X: But all who did receive Him, He gave them — the ones believing in His name — the right to become children of God, who were born not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a husband, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
- A': No one has ever seen God; the only-born God, the One being in the bosom of the Father — that One expounded Him. (John 1:18)
In both A and A' two different are described as being "with" one another. In the beginning this is explicit, the Word was with God. At the end this is implicit, the One being in the bosom of the Father. Arguably, the final relationship is closer than the initial and this leads to two possible understandings:
The Word with God -----> The Only-born God in the bosom of the Father
The Word with God <----> The Only-born God with the Father
If we assume God and Father are meant to refer to the same, then either there has been a permanent change or the second employs a literary device. That is, since in the bosom of is another way of saying with, the first expresses a literal and permanent difference or the second is an artistic or metaphoric expression. In either case, "the Word" must correspond to the only-born God, μονογενὴς θεὸς.
Construction by Envelopment
In 1953, French scholar Marie-Émile Boismard, recognizing the movement of the Word in the Prologue followed the word as it is described in Isaiah 55:10-11, noted:
The Prologue seems thus to describe a parabola, the base of which touches the earth and the two sides of which are lost in God's infinity. In the course of this double movement, descending and ascending, we meet the same symmetrical landmarks, the most noticeable being the mention of the testimony the Baptist bears to Christ (vv.6-8, 15).
He termed this "construction by envelopment"
fand diagrammed it as a parabola.
gWhile both McCoy's linear outline and Boismard's parabola use the same corresponding pairs around the same central theme, the parabola better depicts the actual movement of the Word and clearly identifies the Word as the one making "the journey:"
The Word With God is Sent | The Word Returns To The Father
↓ (a) The Word 1-2 ● | ● 18 The Son in (a')
with God. | the Father
(b) His role of 3 ● | ● 17 Role of re- (b')
creation | creation
(c) Gift to men 4-5 ● | ● 16 Gift to men (c')
(d) Witness of J-B 6-8 ● | ● 15 Witness of J-B (d')
(e) The coming of the 9-11 ● | ● 14 The Incarnation (e') ↑
Word into the World
(f) By the Incarnate Word we become children of God
Nor is this simply a literary device; an arrow added to the unit of thought explicitly using "the Word" (see above) shows the first is the point of descent and the second the point of ascent. In other words, the writer has specifically placed "the Word" at the two "directional" points in the structure. The effect is to show the Word which was with God is the same Word who became flesh and returned as such to the Father.
The Word is the one sent who becomes flesh and returns to the bosom of the Father. This is Jesus Christ (see 1:17). The failure to identify or place Him as such "in the beginning" is no more or less confusing or significant then the treatment of "the Father," who likewise only appears at the end. Both leave the specific identification of all entities in the hands of the reader, consistent with the purpose for writing:
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 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)
Despite the rather obvious identity of Jesus Christ as the Word in the Prologue, it is still a matter for the reader to decide: it is still a matter of belief (as is "God" with "Father").
The Word was "a god"
I will address just a few issues with the translation the Word was a god. A favorite scholar of Jehovah's Witnesses is Jason David BeDuhn who agrees the NWT translation is correct:
In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean "a god."
BeDuhn, who never identifies his own religious beliefs (and possible bias), does what he claims most Christian translators do: he makes an anachronistic assertion. The Greek language of the time had neither indefinite article or the concept of capitalization. It would be impossible for either the writer or the reader to understand θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος to mean the Word was a god. At the time it was written, if a writer wanted to distinguish "a" something, they would either use the article, simply describe it by name, or with a characteristic (i.e. the Word was God).
For example, one might say Zeus was ὁ θεός from many θεοὶ but the expression θεός ἦν ὁ Zeus says, and would be understood as Zeus was θεός, not "a" θεός. At the time, Greek thought was not to simultaneously identify both "the" and "a" in a group. Rather, one from the group was identified and another remained as part of the group. This is obvious from the language which is otherwise able to precisely express very specific thoughts. The reason Greek lacked the indefinite article at that time, is a reflection they did not conceptualize an indistinct "other" in a group. Either there was reason to identify one with the article, or a distinguishing feature, or the one remained as an indistinct member. To the logical Greek mind, there was no such thing as a specific indistinct and so, indefinite, member.
Here is a further example BeDuhn's flawed reasoning:
Greek has only a definite article, like our the; it does not have an indefinite article, like our a or an. So, generally speaking, a Greek definite noun will have a form of the definite article (ho), which will become “the” in English. A Greek indefinite noun will appear without the definite article and will be properly rendered in English with “a” or” an.” We are not “adding a word” when we translate Greek nouns that do not have the definite article as English nouns with the indefinite article. We are simply obeying the rules of English grammar that tell us that we cannot say “Snoopy is dog,” but must say “Snoopy is a dog.” For example, in John 1:1c, the clause we are investigating, ho logos is “the word,” as all translations accurately have it. If it was written simply as logos, without the definite article ho, we would have to translate it as “a word.”
There are two issues with this analysis. First, after saying "a god" is correct because the article was not used, he apparently agrees "God" is correct in 1:6 and 1:12, neither of which has the article. In other words, John was sent by "God" not "a god" and people may become children of "God," not children of "a god." So the principle he just asserted in 1:1c, is not applied a few verses later, because as is obvious, it is context not grammar which determines "God" is the correct translation.
Second, using the example "Snoopy was dog" cleverly obscures the actual text. Many scholars believe John appropriated the concept of the divine logos from either, or both, Greek philosophy or Hellenistic Judaism (i.e. Philo of Alexandria). In that case the Logos was God not only makes good sense, a reader of the period would never understand the divine Logos as simply "a god." This is not to agree with the idea John borrowed the phrase. Rather it is an observation that given the existence of other writings of the divine Logos, no informed reader would immediately assume John's failure to use the article somehow meant the Logos was merely "a god." In fact, it is reasonable to assume the reader who was familiar with the divine Logos would initially understand ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος... is meant to attribute supreme divinity to the divine Logos, a potential line of thinking the writer would need to rein in, as the actual text does.
What Type of God?
As noted, anyone familiar with the extra-Biblical concept of a divine Logos would initially assume that is what is being described. On the other hand, anyone familiar with the Jewish Scriptures would initially assume the text has Genesis 1 in mind. In either association a reader would believe the Logos was "God." This is immediately supported by the next statement, "All things came-into-being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being..."
As the Prologue progresses, two new ideas give cause for reflection: he came to his own and the Word became flesh. Neither is consistent with the extra-Biblical divine Logos or God in Genesis 1. However, it is found in the history of the Jewish people, whom YHVH made and called His own. Therefore, once a reader made the connection the Word was Jesus Christ, who was Himself Jewish, then it becomes obvious the point of the Prologue is that the Word was God who not only made the physical world, but was responsible for "making" the nation of Israel, and all other nations as well.
This understanding agrees with the the main theme of the Prologue: making children of God. As becomes clear, this is an act of creation. So the Logos not only made His own nation, He is making His own family.
a. Brad McCoy, "Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature." p 18 Chafer Theological Seminary
b. While not used as such in the New Testament, "Prologue" is from Greek πρόλογος prólogos, from πρό pró, "before" and λόγος lógos, "word." Similar to προλέγω, which means spoken beforehand, prólogos is an accurate extra-Biblical designation of John 1:1-18; it is that which is written before the Gospel of the Logos.
c. McCoy, p. 18
d. Ibid., pp.30-31
e. M. E. Boismard, O.P. St. John's Prologue, translated by Carisbrooke Dominicans, Newman Press, 1957 p. 73
f. Ibid., p. 79
g. Ibid., p. 80
h. Jason David BeDuhn, Truth in Translation, University Press of America, 2003, p. 115
i. Ibid., p. 114