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John 1:1-5, Continued…

Gospel of John

Genesis 1

Common Greek Words* to both texts.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

1 In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 

ἐν ἀρχῇ In the beginning.

 ὁ θεὸς God

 σκότος Darkness

 ἐγένετο create, came into being

φῶς Light

[While Logos is not used in Genesis 1 (LXX), note that God “spoke” creation into being. Also, life (zoe) is not in Genesis 1, but all of Genesis 1 is about creating life].

The Problem of the Dot

We’ve compared John 1 with Genesis 1. They are both about God speaking creation into being. John even personifies that spoken creative ability of God as the Logos whom he also identifies as Jesus. We’ve also mentioned the Eighth Day of New Creation in Jesus, the Word (capital W) of God. Now, look over there in the left hand column: John 1:3.

There’s the problem of the dot.

You can’t see it in the English text but most Bibles have a footnote at verse 3. The footnote will show an alternative reading. For example, the NRSV’s footnote at verse 3 gives an alternate possible reading:

3 All things came into being through him. And without him not one thing came into being that has come into being. In him was life

Well, it’s doesn’t make a huge difference, does it. But how did the problem happen? And are there others like it in the NewTestament that challenge the foundations of Christian faith?

The first thing to note is that the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John are written with all capital letters and without punctuation. They look like this:

Without punctuation or capital letters to start a sentence, how could you tell where the period goes in the case of John 1:3? Well, there ARE normally ways to figure these sorts of things out in exegesis, but this one is difficult.

But why have a Bible that isn’t perfect in its language and punctuation?

For example, in one of the oldest manuscripts that DOES have punctuation…well…there is a smudge. A dot that may have been to end the sentence in a place similar to the alternate reading…or not. It’s unclear.

So, no one really knows. There are trillions (like the national debt) of articles written on this by smart people who don’t have a life, but it is still unresolved.

Is this a problem overall with the New Testament? Not a critical problem. If you want to spend a year to look at every place in the NT that has a problem like this I don’t believe you’ll find a smoking gun to disprove the pillars of Christian faith. (This actually might be fun to do at HRMW sometime for the three of us that also don’t have a life). And English Bibles normally indicate these issues in the footnotes. Bible translators and scholars are generally quite honest about the problems with the text. The biblical texts are actually quite reliable for their age but there are some passages particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) that are nearly impossible to translate — and the footnotes will usually say that.

But why have a Bible that isn’t perfect in its language and punctuation?

It goes back to Word of God. Christians believe their Holy Bible is not actually sacred in itself; it is not to be revered as containing god. Rather, it is a portal to the Word of God who is Jesus. It isn’t the end-all; it takes you to the One who is the Beginning and the End.

Think of it for a moment. If the Greek and Hebrew words were themselves sacred, then we could never translate them into another language. But, on the contrary, Christians have gobs of translations in hundreds of languages. Because the words are not themselves theophanies — they take you to the Theos!

More could be said here…but I’m afraid I’m over two minutes!

*The LXX or “Septuagint” was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jews of Jesus’ day were more familiar with the LXX than the Hebrew version because Hebrew was already an ancient language by that time and wasn’t known by the common folks who spoke Aramaic and an everyday shop Greek called Koine Greek.

Cover art: The Library of Celsus in Ephesus, c. 110 A.D.

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