1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
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Translators almost universally use "word" in John 1:1. None that I know of use "reason" although some (rather tendentiously IMO) use "voice" or "Christ." It is true that in Greek philosophy it often means reason, as well as other things such as idea, thought, speech, meaning, principle, standard, or logic.
A variety of factors lead translators to prefer Word rather than Reason or other choices. One is that logos was often used in the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Old Testament to refer to God's word.
In examining the Septuagint we find that the Greek word “logos” was a commonly used word, used hundreds of times, and was translated from the Hebrew “davar”. It is often translated “word” in our English versions:
And Jehovah said unto Moses, Is Jehovah’s hand waxed short? now shalt thou see whether my word (logos) shall come to pass unto thee or not. (Numbers 11:23)
then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth (logos), and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in the midst of thee, (Deuteronomy 13:14)
And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel; And he said unto them, Set your heart unto all the words (logous) which I testify unto you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, even all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 32:45-46)
In addition, translators no doubt understand that John's gospel intends to parallel the Genesis account of creation, which likewise starts with "In the beginning." In Genesis, God speaks the world into existence ("Let there be light"), and in John God creates all things through the Logos.
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. (1.3)
Arguing against using "Word" is the fact that Philo, a leading figure in 1st c. Hellenistic Judaism, used "logos" to mean Logos as the "idea of ideas" or the "archetypal idea," and the Greek philosophers often used the term to signify "reason."
Thus, while logos can indeed be translated as "reason" or "idea," it had long been understood to refer to God's word in the Greek version of the Old Testament. In addition, John rather clearly meant his description of creation to parallel Gen. 1, in which God "speaks" the world into being. These factors led translators to use "Word" rather than Reason when translating John 1:1. "Reason" would be reasonable (pun intended) but not better.
The problem with translating ὁ λόγος as the reason is that the reason doesn’t fully express the meaning of ὁ λόγος in the prolegomena of the Gospel of John. In English reason is too often associated with cause rather than the thought process or reasoning. It is true that the use of ὁ λόγος in the prolegomena is different than the rest of the New Testament. John made a definite connection to the first chapter of Genesis, where God spoke the creation into being.
Speaking is associated with the thought process. There was more to creation than the laws of physics acting on the universe. God is more than a sentient being. He is more than self-conscious. He is totally conscious of all that exists even before it was created. The problem trying to translate ὁ λόγος is He is larger than words. You could translate ὁ λόγος as intelligent designer, but that is more interpretation than translation.
Yes, how to translate ὁ λόγος in the prolegomena is a struggle, but we are yet to find a better way to translate ὁ λόγος than the Word.
About 80% of the time λόγος occurs in the Septuagint (LXX) it translates the Hebrew word דָּבָר. They have similar meanings.
Figure 1. Hebrew words that λόγος translates in the LXX (generated using Logos Bible Software)
λόγος, ου, ὁ (verbal noun of λέγω in the sense ‘pick’; Hom.+). … ① a communication whereby the mind finds expression, word … ② computation, reckoning … ③ the independent personified expression of God, the Logos. … Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., pp. 598–601). University of Chicago Press.
דָּבָר … n.m. speech, word … I. sg. speech, discourse, saying, word, as the sum of that which is spoken: … II. saying, utterance, sentence, as a section of a discourse: … III. a word, words: … IV. matter, affair, thing about which one speaks: -- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). In Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 182-183). Clarendon Press.
It is not wrong to translate the Greek 'logos' as Reason or Logic. Perhaps it would be better to include the nuance of reason and logic in "Word" for a better understanding of it, we can do this by studying about the background of the Hellenistic philosophical nuance by logos. Translating logos as logic would contrast logos with rhema ῥήμα which properly means "spoken word". However, these words are more specific pertaining to the mathematical process in English and may not convey the fuller concept of the Greek logos; and it would be better to maintain the traditional translation
The concept of Logos as God's mind and thought is present in pre-rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. Philo, a Jewish philosopher, describes the Logos as part of the Supreme Being, a personalized manifestation of God. In Platonic religion, God was referred to as the One or Monad, and from the One emanated a divine hypostasis identified as the Logos.
Augustine gave a good argument why "word" is a better translation due to its expressive quality of communication whereas "reason" remains an abstract passive concept.
The Greek word “logos” signifies both Word and Reason. But in this passage it is better to interpret it Word; as referring not only to the Father, but to the creation of things by the operative power of the Word; whereas Reason, though it produce nothing, is still rightly called Reason. Words by their daily use, sound, and passage out of us, have become common things
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, 1986 states,
Greek Philosophy. Among philosophers the precise significance of logos varies, but it stands usually for “reason” and reflects the Greek conviction that divinity cannot come into direct contact with matter. The logos is a shock absorber between God and the universe, and is the manifestation of the divine principle in the world. In the Stoic tradition the logos is both divine reason and reason distributed in the world (and thus in the mind).
Neoplatonism, ancient mystical philosophy based on the doctrines of Plato…At the center of the order is the One, an incomprehensible, all-sufficient unity. By the process of emanation the One gives rise to the Divine Mind or Logos [word], which contains all the forms, or living intelligences, of individuals. The content of the Divine Mind, therefore, constitutes a multiple reflection of the unitary perfection of the One. Below the divine mind is the World Soul, which links the intellectual and material worlds. These three transcendent realities, or hypostases (the One, the Divine Mind, and the World Soul) support the finite and visible world, which includes individuals and matter. Plotinus sometimes compared the One to a fountain, from which overflowed the lower levels of reality. – Columbia Encyclopedia
It should be understood that we cannot find strong equivalence of words in translation. It is recommended to learn Greek to better understand the nuance and thought of the ancient literature. If someone chooses to translate Logos as Reason, the only significant change will be that of stronger understanding and irony of Martin Luther's doctrines concerning "Reason".
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.” [Martin Luther, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148]
But since the devil’s bride, Reason, that pretty whore, comes in and thinks she’s wise, and what she says, what she thinks, is from the Holy Spirit, who can help us, then? Not judges, not doctors, no king or emperor, because [reason] is the Devil’s greatest whore. [Martin Luther’s Last Sermon in Wittenberg … Second Sunday in Epiphany, 17 January 1546. Dr. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. (Weimar: Herman Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1914), Band 51:126, Line 7ff]
For the word (logos) of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).
A proper translation, which of necessity involves some amount of interpretation, requires one to also consider how the term is found in the original text and used in context:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
The term is not
λόγος, logos. It is
ὁ λόγος, ho logos, the logos. The most common use of the article is anaphoric. So, another way John could have written the would be:
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. A less common, but conceptually similar use of the article is cataphoric which would be
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν λόγος.
To illustrate the significance of a composition with the anaphoric use, consider "Word/Reason" in the statement, In the beginning was Word/Reason and the Word/Reason was with the God and the Word/Reason was God. The anaphoric use of the article means "the" Word/Reason refers back to "Word/Reason" in the beginning. This use means the writer wants the reader to know "Word/Reason" is what was mentioned first, in the beginning, which actually comes close to expressing the Platonic or Philo's understanding. That is, the "divine" logos was essentially the same as the God. A cataphoric composition would convey the same but would show the writer's wanted to place emphasis on Word/Reason.
John's consistent use of
ὁ λόγος accomplishes two things. First, it denies the meaning which would have been present with either the anaphoric and cataphoric use of the article. That is, it is not
λόγος in general or as a concept: it is the
λόγος. Second, it indicates the writer wants the reader to understand
ὁ λόγος is the same with each and every use.
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας
The Word/Reason which became flesh is the same Word/Reason which was in the beginning, which was with God, and which was God.
In English, "the" Word is better at conveying this specific nature of
ὁ λόγος as it is used in verses 1 and 14. Also, the Word, could be any word or concept and is understood more generally than the Reason. If one asked "what Word," Word could be any word or idea or even logic along the lines of Philo's conception of
λόγος. On the other hand, the Reason implies a single reason, not all reason in general.
Another possibility a translator must consider is John's use of
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος most likely intends the reader to recall the creation account in Genesis which begins
ἐν ἀρχῇ... in the Greek translation. In this case, it is possible John intends
ὁ λόγος to actually mean the Word. That is, within the Genesis account, there is a single Hebrew word which was in the beginning and was with God and so forth.
After reading the entire Prologue, it is possible John implies there is a single word:
And God saw the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:4)
וירא אלהים את־האור כי־טוב ויבדל אלהים בין האור ובין החשך
Since Hebrew appends the article to a word, the light is one word, האור.
When John continues and writes
τὸ φῶς, the light, he is referencing the Hebrew, האור:
4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1)
Similarly when John records Jesus as identifying Himself as I am the light of the world, he brings forth that which was in the beginning, האור, to that which is in the present, Jesus Christ.