John 1:15 (NASB95)
John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’“
Most translations choose to interpret the ἔμπροσθέν in “ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν” as regarding status rather than order of events.
Within the first chapter, John’s usage of the verb γίνομαι is used exclusively in the sense of either coming into being (vv. 3, 6, 10, 17, 28), or becoming as in a transformation (12, 14).
Therefore, “ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν” in 1:15 & 30 could mean one of two things:
- “He has come into being before me”, in this sense, ἔμπροσθέν is indicating the time when the Word “γέγονεν”, or came into existence. So if the Word came into being ἔμπροσθέν John, the γέγονεν would imply that there was a point of origin for the Word and a time when he did not exist. This matches the use of γίνομαι by John up until this point, regarding the origination of creations and attributes.
- “He has become before me [in rank]”, in this sense, ἔμπροσθέν is regarding a position of the Word in relation to John, and the γέγονεν is indicating that the positional status came to be at some point.
Is the translational choice of the latter merely due to doctrinal preference of the translators, or are there other factors that point to ἔμπροσθέν being translated in a positional sense? Are there examples of the phrase “ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν” having an established idiomatic meaning in Greek at the time?
A parallel phrase in favor of the former translation would be Isaiah 43:10
Before Me there was no God formed
ἔμπροσθέν μου οὐκ ἐγένετο ἄλλος θεὸς
It is not likely that this passage is referring rank, because it goes on to say
And there will be none after Me.
Which would indicate this is regarding the time in which the other gods were made, not rank.
Is there a closer parallel to the language used in John 1:15 & 30 that would indicate this is about status rather than a prior coming into being?
Note: This question does not ask anything regarding the “ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος” or the “ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν” as the linked question does. That question is about whether or not the passage implies preexistence. This question is regarding whether the “ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν” should be translated as “has a higher rank than I” or “came into existence before me”. The doctrinal implications of this question are quite different.