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John 1:1a New International Version

In the beginning was the Word

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγοςis

Why is there no definite article for ἀρχῇ?

This question is related to "In A Beginning" vs. "In THE beginning"? Different implications?

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    See Daniel B Wallace, for example (Beyond the Basics) and see also Peter Masters in regard to the 'zero' article in English ('I am king' which is stronger than 'I am the king'). The absence of article can be an indication of absolute concept. In context, here, if there is 'another' beginning then either the first beginning was not a beginning or the second was not. Absolute concept demands a single example of the concept. – Nigel J Dec 14 '20 at 18:05
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    @NigelJ - I completely agree - to answer this would require reproducing one of the chapters of Daniel Wallace. – Dottard Dec 15 '20 at 4:05
  • Note in Gen. 1:1 neither the MT (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית) nor the LXX (Ἐν ἀρχῇ ) have the article. – Perry Webb Dec 27 '20 at 0:28
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Daniel B Wallace, dealing with '(E.) The Absence of the Article' (p243 of 'Beyond the Basics') says :

It is not necessary for a noun to have the article in order for it to be definite. But, conversely, a noun cannot be indefinite when it has the article. Thus it may be definite without the article, and it must be definite with the article.

Of John 1:1 : In the beginning was the word, Wallace says :

Here, the noun is also monadic, giving it additional reason to be definite.

See Oxford English Dictionary : monadic - 'existing singly'.

Wallace states later (p248) on 'Monadic Nouns' that :

A one-of-a-kind noun does not, of course, require the article to be definite.


This is the basis for my previous comment :

The absence of article can be an indication of absolute concept. In context, here, if there is 'another' beginning then either the first beginning was not a beginning or the second was not. Absolute concept demands a single example of the concept.

But see also Peter Masters, regarding the 'zero' article (stronger than definite article) and the 'null' article (weaker than indefinite article) in English ('I am king' being stronger than 'I am the king'... but 'there is milk on the table' being even weaker than 'there is some milk on the table') which has relevance also to other languages and in particular to this kind of occasion in Greek :

Acquisition of the Zero and Null articles in English

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The meaning of the English article

In English the article ("the") is used to make a word definite.

This is how you would demand an indefinite pizza:

Bring me a pizza.

This is how you would demand a definite pizza:

Bring me the pizza.

The meaning of the Greek article

The meaning of the Greek article is slightly different, which can make it difficult for English speakers to grasp.

"The primary function of the [Greek] article is not to make a word definite.

● When the article is present, it is emphasizing identity ● When the article is not present, it is generally emphasizing the quality of the substantive."

-Mounce, BBG, p. 334

This is how you would speak with reference to an identified love:

τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο

"they did not receive the love of the truth" -2 Thessalonians 2:10, NASB

This is how you would speak with reference to a "love essence":

ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.

"God is love." -1 John 4:8, NASB

You would not translate that verse "God is a love" because that is not what the Greek is saying.

John 1:1

Likewise, John 1:1 is not saying "the Word was a god," but is rather saying something somewhat like, "the Word was God in essence"... which is weird English, so we translate it "the word was God" and that conveys the meaning well for English readers.

For a very thorough treatment of this issue, see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, pp.256-269.

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