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The Greek word order and The Word of God

Users of Elpenor’s Greek lessons should have noticed what a great importance I place in the Greek word order, even in the order of syllables. Word order can be a valuable teacher. Here is such a case, in John 1.1 (God was the Word). Daniel Wallace writes: “why was Theos [God] thrown forward? and why does it lack the article? In brief, its emphatic position stresses its essence or quality. Its lack of a definite article keeps us from identifying the person of the Word (Jesus Christ) with the person of God (the Father).

“That is to say, the word order tells us that Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes that the Father has; lack of the article tells us that Jesus Christ is not the Father. John’s wording here is beautifully compact! It is, in fact, one of the most elegantly terse theological statements one could ever find. As Martin Luther said, the lack of an article is against Sabellianism; the word order is against Arianism.”

David Anspaugh, who gives this quotation, finishes his post on the importance of learning Greek, with this remark: “So the next time a Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door and says that the real translation of John 1:1 is ‘and the Word was a god’, tell them they need to study their Greek better, cause there is no room for that nonsense in the original language.”

Origen was the first, so far as I know, who noticed these differences (read his second book of the commentary on John). However, neither Origen nor the great fathers that followed, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus, etc, confined themselves in interpretations based just on grammar, because there exist also traps in such a way. Especially when we deal with matters of the greatest importance, the whole context (paragraph, chapter, book, the whole Bible) should agree with the interpretation that we give. Thus, to stay in the present case, the Fathers placed emphasis rather to John’s statement that the Word was “in the beginning”. This property, being in the beginning, can really not belong to a God, but only to the God.

1 Comment

  1. Stephen Todd

    Thank you so much for this little post. I am going to use this quotation in my sermon Sunday morning.