The Word: Interpretation

Discussion in 'Bible Study' started by Roads, Aug 12, 2013.

  1. This thread is a continuation of a discussion that came up when another thread went off topic. It's, essentially a response to Stan's question:

    For some context, you can check out the original thread to see the full discussion so far. Although, be warned, you're going to see Sean Bean in a dress. So, click at your own risk!

    My experience is that personally working to understand the context that the Bible was written in adds profound depth and meaning to what I read in the Bible. When I read the Bible, I try to take into account linguistic and historical context, as well as genre.

    Stan's position (and Stan, I am summarising here, please feel free to jump in if I'm being reductionist) was that the translators of the Bible have already accounted for context in the translation process, so further study into context is unnecessary, as the translation already provides everything we need to fully convey everything from the original text.

    I have benefited from the insights of my brothers and sisters in Christ countless times, and I've grown greatly from learning how other Christians approach interpretation. So, I thought I might turn the above discussion over to the cfs community via an exercise that I'm hoping will be edifying for all of us here.

    So, on the the exercise.

    John 1:1 reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (NASB)

    What I would ask is that people simply share their insights and reflections on this verse. What does it mean? And (the real question) do you have a certain approach to reading the Bible that helped you arrive at that particular insight/reflection? Did you just read the verse and that's it? Did you get context from the entire passage or other parts of the Bible? Or did you look for context elsewhere as well (i.e., prayer, word study, etc)?

    I chose this verse in particular to respond to Stan's question because for anyone who already has a tendency to read scripture in its linguistic or historical context, the urge to do a word study or comment on certain aspects of Greek thought will be irresistible :)

    I do anticipate that we will discover some particular things, but I also want to clarify that I'm really not trying to set up a trap to prove anyone wrong. I came to these forums to be corrected. If I believe something wrong, I want to remedy that. I hope we will have an edifying discussion and learn from the many insights the Spirit has given to each of us.
  2. Just to be clear, I am NOT against Word Study, especially God's Word. I do think that it is over used online and much of it for eisegestical reasons. I do think that the current batch of MODERN English translations are very similar in scope and tenor.
    There are a few methods of translation:
    1. Dynamic
    2. Formal
    3. Functional
    As a 'bilingual' person, I also speak French, Formal does NOT work well because it is word-for-word. You really cannot translate a full text IN CONTEXT, using word-for-word, and maintain the true intent of the text.
    Dynamic is thought-for-thought or sense-for-sense translating. It seeks to be true to the intent of the manuscripts.
    Functional has to do with how people interact in cultures. I suggest anyone with a keen interest in this, go online and study the methods and which translations are done in which manner.
    Personally I use translations that are dynamic in nature, i.e.; NIV and HCSB. I temper those with formal translations, i.e.; NASB and NRSV. I also use the MOUNCE NT, which he himself terms a "reverse Interlinear". You will have to read up on it to see what he means and how it was done.

    As far as John 1:1 is concerned, I don't really understand WHAT you are asking. It is fairly straight forward from my perspective and I have only ever really debated this with people who DON'T believe in the Trinity.
  3. Thanks for clarifying, Stan.

    Okay, I guess I can ask a pointed question about John 1:1 to help get the ball rolling. Why is Jesus being described specifically as "the Word"? It the word choice here significant? Why doesn't the passage simply state that "In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God..." etc.
  4. Because it was the WORD that created Heaven and Earth. There is God, His Holy Spirit and His Word. 3 in 1. God's Word created everything. Psalm 33:6 & 9. From what I can see, it is the same Greek word in Psalms 33:6 and John 1:1
    As God inspired his Word I can't say why, but John 1 does get to who the word is in verse 14. To the Jews this would be necessary I suppose, not so much to the Gentiles who accepted who Jesus was, without the history lesson.
  5. #5 Roads, Aug 13, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
    I would say there's nothing wrong with that interpretation. But I would also say, there is more to be gained, particularly through understanding some historical context.

    I will qualify, I do not personally know a lot about the mechanics of Greek language. But I do know about philosophy, and that's what I want to talk about.

    The word in the Greek that's been translated as "Word" is Logos.

    "Word" is, technically, one of the possible meanings of Logos, but Logos is also a central concept in what, then, was traditional Greek thought.

    In Stoic philosophy, the universe is entirely made of two things: the material, and an intelligence which sets the material universe into motion: essentially, fate, or Universal Reason. It is logic, physics, the law, the essential Truth that governs the mechanics of the universe. The Stoic philosopher Chrysippus wrote "The universe itself is god and the universal outpouring of its soul; it is this same world's guiding principle, operating in mind and reason, together with the common nature of things and the totality that embraces all existence." What Chrysippus describes is Logos.

    By naming Logos "Jesus," John is saying that it's Jesus who is "the totality that embraces all existence." He's not just the "word," God's power to create, He is the essential Truth of the universe, that actively governs and holds together all of existence. John is telling Greeks that this essential truth is not distant and unknowable: it is the person of Jesus, who was made known to us and lived among us (v.14).

    There isn't a transferable concept in English, so "word" had to be used. There is a transferable concept, significantly, in Chinese, which seems to be why most (most according to Wikipedia, I personally can't read Chinese) Chinese Bibles translate Logos as "Tao" instead of the Chinese word for "word." The concept of Tao in Taoism (traditional Chinese thought) is similar to the concept of Logos from Greek thought in that it's the essential, but distant and unknowable, Truth of the universe. The translators of the Bible into Chinese are essentially doing the same thing John did: using the concept of essential, universal Truth that already exists in the culture, but naming it as not a "thing" but a knowable person: Jesus.

    So to answer your question, Stan, did personally studying the verse in context (in this case, historical context) make the Bible say something it didn't already say? Well, no. The translation of Logos as "word" is correct. But I think we have to admit that the concept of Logos is much bigger than "word," and understanding the verse in the context of Greek thought is significant, and adds richness and depth its meaning.
  6. As far as John 1:1 is concerned, NO, because that verse in context with the rest of that part of scripture is explained very clearly, as I said by verses 14-18. I have never had an issue with it from day one.
  7. So...

    You disagree with me that John draws from Greek thought's traditional concept of Logos,

    Or you think that the context in v.14-18 successfully conveys the complete meaning of Logos?

  8. First, John did NOT write John.
    Second the writer used a scribe who wrote in Greek. The author was NOT Greek, he was Hebrew.
    Scribes were well trained and transcribing the Aramaic/Hebrew to Greek would not be an issue.
    Yes I believe 14-18 sufficiently conveys what is written in verse 1.
  9. *sigh*

    Is the concept of Logos in stoic thought being specifically utilized by the author here?
  10. I'm not into Stoicism at all, seeing as it is reflective of mans concepts of morality and NOT God's. The author was NOT a Stoic so NO it's not.
    What exactly is it you are trying to get at?
  11. So, did you not read my post about the concept of Logos in stoic thought? About how the author is using a concept that already exists in the culture as a means of teaching about Jesus? And how the Chinese translators notably chose to use "Tao" instead of "word" to convey this concept?
  12. You are assuming the author was influenced by Stoicism Roads. The scribe was a Jew as was the author of John. They had nothing to do with stoic thought. I have no idea what the Chinese bible says, as I don't read Chinese. Why would you think stoic thought has anything to do with the Chinese translation?
    I'm just not seeing what you are trying to get at.
  13. Alright. So I was going to post this huge argument about evidence of the influence of Hellenistic thought on the Hebrew people at the time of writing. But somehow, I get the feeling that's not the way to go. You can look into it yourself if you're really interested. Let's just say, though, that the research is plentiful and easy to find, and there's not a lot of debate, just strong evidence.

    So let's start with where I agree with you.

    I do support your idea that translations are trustworthy, to an extent. I agree that the translators took every aspect of context into consideration, particularly when using the dynamic method, as you accurately describe it. I agree that a lot of what gets suggested by lay people (and academics) when reading the Bible in context is incorrect, and much false teaching is propagated as a result.

    However, I do want to respond to this:

    I think there are lots of practical reasons for further investigation/study.

    As you must be aware, the community of "credentialed scholars" are currently, and have always been, in hot debate over many aspects of the translation work that's already been done. Unless we are going to argue that the translations are just as divinely inspired as the original documents themselves, I see no reason why we should ignore the debate that's happening among "credentialed scholars". There is enough convincing debate that I think it's overly simplistic to just suggest that someone educated has done the work, and now I can just read the translation and learn all there is to learn from those translations alone.

    I am hardly a scholar myself, but I also recognize that the academic community is learning more about ancient languages, history and culture, and eventually, new translations will come of that work that I believe will prove to be increasingly true to the originals. New translations will be able to be used alongside the ones we already have to help us attain a truer, richer understanding. This process has already occurred in the history of translation, as this article in Christianity Today shows: The author, who is a translator, reinforces much of what you've said about reading Bible translations, Stan, and reinforces the hope that translations will continue to improve. I myself am much more interested in the work that's being done in historical and cultural research, less so in what's being learned about the mechanics of ancient languages, but I recognise its importance. That research and the debate is already available to the public, why shouldn't we follow that debate? What I've discussed comes from scholarly debate, and you're free to look into yourself and make your own informed decisions. Information on it is not hard to find, there is plenty of scholarly debate on the subject.

    I did really come to these forums to be corrected if I'm wrong. But it's really, really hard to see your perspective that "Practically speaking, why investigate/study something that a credentialed scholar has already done?" when there is still so much discussion among credentialed scholars who continue to study and investigate, and keep finding more.


    To summarise my argument from a few posts back, everything I said can be wrapped up by Col 1:17, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

    The essential summary of my proposition is that in John 1:1, the author uses the culturally ubiquitous (for both people of Greek and Hebrew ethnicity) concept of "Logos" to teach what Col 1:17 says about Him, which would have been significant for people familiar with Greek thought. From John 1:1-18, if we understand Jesus as "the Word," we understand significant Truth. If we, though, understand Jesus as "the Logos," we understand Jesus also as he is described in Col 1:14: not just as He who was actively involved in the creation of the universe, but now also as He in whom "all things hold together." It creates an active, involved now tone, instead of a distant, but powerful then tone, right from the beginning, and that tone will colour the reading of the passage. I don't necessarily feel this changes the meaning of the passage, but I think it adds depth and richness to the meaning of the passage. If you can see how the context of the rest of the verses in the passage points to the qualities of Christ taught in Col 1:17, then I admit, you're a much smarter man than I am. I cannot see it. For me, it took accessing the debate, still ongoing, between credentialed scholars. And that study, for me, has led to a deeper understanding of this passage.

    Regarding my thoughts about the Chinese Bible: I only think it's significant that "Tao" has been chosen to translate "Logos". Look it up yourself, see what Tao is in Chinese thought. This is the concept the Chinese translators chose to translate "Logos."
  14. In John 1:1, John identified the Word with Jesus.


    John 1:14 tells us...........
    "And the WORD was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth".

    The opening of John is actually a repetition of Genesis 1:1. When time began, the WORD was already in existence as it is the person of Christ, the WORD who was the agent of creation.

    Jesus has always been. He is eternal. He is God. The claim by John that Jesus is the WORD of God is about His preexistence which then becomes a claim to His deity. When we point to Jesus, we say that He is God.

    WAS THE WORD is a unique name for Christ and happens only 4 times in the New Test. as a name and is only used by John. Since words reveal the thoughts of one person to another, Christ as the Eternal Word is then a revelation of God to man.

    Again the question must be WHY?

    This declaration by John establishes Christ as the subject of creation and not the "object" of creation. He was the Creator not the created. As such, He and only He was able to meet the demand of the Father that all sin must be paid for by death.

    In this way....God could die to pay for the sins of man because He was man and yet not stay dead because He was God.

    WHY??? Because the WORD was completely God and the 1st verse literally reads......"And God was the WORD".

    The subject and predicate are reversed to indicate the deity of the Word.
    Roads likes this.
  15. In John's day "word" was often associated with "wisdom" (for example, Wisdom of Solomon 9:1; cf. Breck 1991:79-98), and John will often use wisdom motifs to speak of Jesus (cf. Willett 1992). For example, like the Word who was with God, Wisdom is said to have been "at his side" at the creation (Prov 8:30).

    As this passage suggests, God's word and wisdom were often spoken of as if they were persons (for example, Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-16; Prov 8:1--9:18; Job 28; cf. Hengel 1974:1:153-56). The Jews did not view these personifications as divine personal beings distinct from God, thereby challenging monotheism (Hurtado 1988:41-50). However, a redefinition of monotheism is called for with the coming of Jesus (for example, Jn 1:14, 18; 5:16-18). Thus the use of "word" and "wisdom" within Judaism was of enormous help to the Christians as they tried to understand and express the reality they found in Jesus. Jesus is what the "word" and "wisdom" were, and much more.
    The description of Wisdom as the master worker at God's side at creation (Prov 8:22-31) is now echoed in John's declaration that the Word was the agent of all creation (1:3). As agent he is distinct from the Creator. God the Father is viewed throughout the Gospel as the ultimate source of all, including the Son and the Spirit. But life did not simply come through the Word but was in the Word (1:4). Only God is the source of life, and it is a mark of Jesus' distinctness and deity that the Father "has granted the Son to have life in himself" (5:26).
    Roads likes this.
  16. I have no doubt there was a certain amount of influence from Hellenistic thought in that time. I just don't think the Jews were that influenced based on how sensitive they were about maintaining their unique identity. Paul was a Greek born Jew, but again I doubt there was much influence from Hellenistic thought, based on him being a Pharisee. Finally the Bible is INSPIRED and I'm sure God was NOT influenced by Hellenistic thought, or you don't accept the Bible as the INSPIRED Word of God? Not much room for dithering here.

    I have been using the NIV and NASB since their inception in the mid 80s. There are a few minor differences, but they all pretty much say the same thing. I now use IN ADDITION to those versions, the NRSV and HCSB and MOUNCE. Nor real change in understanding or translation. One of the BIG issues is gender parity. I have to agree and I see no reason to NOT have gender parity when the manuscripts do not, in context, differ. The ONLY other so-called 'hot' debate, is the KJVO camp and they really don't have ANY credence as far as I am concerned.

    I have no doubt there was a certain amount of influence from Hellenistic thought in that time. I just don't think the Jews were that influenced based on how sensitive they were about maintaining their unique identity. Paul was a Greek born Jew, but again I doubt there was much influence from Hellenistic thought, based on him being a Pharisee. Finally the Bible is INSPIRED and I'm sure God was NOT influenced by Hellenistic thought, or you don't accept the Bible as the INSPIRED Word of God? Not much room for dithering here.

    The foregoing makes an assumption that is NOT accurate. It assumes I have NOT looked into these debates. That would not be accurate but I found very quickly in my view that they DON'T affect how or what I read in the Bible. One notable exception would be Jesus cursing the fig tree. However that was more understanding it in the context of OT prophecy.
    My perspective does NOT have to be yours, and you should pursue whatever it is that makes you more interested in God's Word. I am always open to the new translations like the upcoming ISV, but as many on that committee were also on the NIV committee, I don't expect a lot of serious change.

    I have no doubt there was a certain amount of influence from Hellenistic thought in that time. I just don't think the Jews were that influenced based on how sensitive they were about maintaining their unique identity. Paul was a Greek born Jew, but again I doubt there was much influence from Hellenistic thought, based on him being a Pharisee. Finally the Bible is INSPIRED and I'm sure God was NOT influenced by Hellenistic thought, or you don't accept the Bible as the INSPIRED Word of God? Not much room for dithering here.

    Yes I have and do see that in the text as you describe above, but I did NOT have to go outside the text or context to see it as you describe here. I still don't see what you find extraordinary about LOGOS, as you haven't really shown it yet? In any event we seem to be on the same page so I don't see it as an issue at all.
  17. I'm 100% sure that God wasn't influenced by Hellenistic thought, Hebrew thought, or any other kind of thought. I'm saying He uses the language of the people to speak to the people. I'm not suggesting that the author believed that the Logos concept from Stoicism was factually accurate, I'm saying it was a culturally ubiquitous concept, like, say, the concepts of the subconscious, or democracy, or feminism are for us: you don't necessarily believe in them, but they are part of the culture you live in, so you understand them, and you can speak with other people about them.

    I'm just suggesting that the author is using the concept of Logos to teach a universal Truth about Jesus for his culture the same way Paul in Acts 17 used the alter to the unknown god to teach the Greeks in Athens about God. Paul says, "So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you." I think that's exactly what John 1:1 for Greeks; it says, you already understand that there's an active intelligence in the universe that holds all things together, now let me teach you that this intelligence was there from the beginning, was with God and was God, was made known to us and walked among us, and has a name: Jesus.
    Major likes this.
  18. I don't anticipate "serious" changes in upcoming translations either, Stan. I'm not throwing up my hands here about our current translations and saying, it's wrong, all wrong! But I think small changes in understanding can make a big difference for people in their worldview, which determines how they live as Christians and teach Christianity. Like in the example from the Chinese translation in the article I linked (which I started another thread about), a small change can be an "aha!" moment for an entire Christian community.

    I have background in literary criticism, and I've found John 1:1 to be an excellent way to talk with postmodernists about God, because of the significance of words as a creative force in postmodernism. Similarly, an explanation of the significance of Logos in Greek thought reveals how helpful John 1:1 could be in discussions with people in our modern culture who believe in a life-force in the universe, or an absentee God.
  19. Interesting. Postmodernists like Derrida wanted to debunk what he called 'logocentrism'.
  20. Roads:

    PS: (Anon.)

    D'ya wanna know de creed o' Jacques Derrida?
    Dere aint no reada.
    Dere aint no wrida

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