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Re: [John_Lit] Re: 'The Word was toward God' question

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  • bill ace
    Thank you every one who has responded to my query. It appears that there is actually a diversity of opinion on this matter, or at least a group of ways to
    Message 1 of 15 , Dec 27, 2008
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      Thank you every one who has responded to my query. It appears that there is actually a diversity of opinion on this matter, or at least a group of ways to understand 'pros' as 'with'.

      I think this shows either how much we know about the Bible, or how little, or somehow both.

      Martin C. Arno

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Gary Henecke
      A lot of assumptions her as fact: assumptions on the language of the first readers, and the community of the first readers, and John s intent or understanding
      Message 2 of 15 , Dec 27, 2008
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        A lot of assumptions her as fact: assumptions on the language of the first readers, and the community of the first readers, and John's intent or understanding from the Midrash writings - even John's knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures versus the LXX.

        Your brother
        Gary Allen Henecke
        -----Original Message-----
        From: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com [mailto:johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Kevin Snapp
        Sent: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:39 PM
        To: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: [John_Lit] Re: 'The Word was toward God' question

        May I suggest a different angle, that the Greek in this context can
        best be understood by way of Semitic idiom. When I first learned Greek
        a long time ago I had the exact same question -- the usual translation
        was "with God," but "with" was not the usual meaning of pros with
        accusative object. Many years later after a Jewish education I returned
        to John and have been reading it through Jewish eyes, beginning with the
        prologue. John's first language is Aramaic, he knows the Bible in
        Hebrew, and he is writing for a Jewish-Christian community, or at least
        a community with an insider group of Jewish Christians, as there are a
        number of things that only someone with Jewish background would be
        expected to notice. Please excuse the style of the following, which I
        cut and pasted from a draft paper I am working on. I slipped footnotes
        into the text, and the Greek font didn't quite translate, but it's


        A Jewish reader would understand “the Word” in
        John’s context as referring to Torah -- not the Torah read in
        synagogues, but God’s supernal Torah, the “King of
        King’s Authorized Version,” as it were. Jewish midrash
        portrays God as consulting His Torah as a blueprint, as it were, before
        creating the world, and for John’s Jewish readers this would have
        been the image in play. Midrash Rabbah - Genesis I:1 [Although Genesis
        Rabbah is a third to fourth century collection, it is plausible that
        this image, based upon Pr.8:22, “The Lord made me as the
        beginning of His way,” was commonly known among educated Jews in
        the first century.]

        Although the New Testament normally renders “Torah” as
        “νομος,” “law,” here John is speaking
        of God’s Torah, which for God is not “law,” but the
        divine reason, intelligence and design-- a concept appropriately
        rendered as “λόγος.”

        I contend that the accepted translation, “the Word was with
        God,” does not properly express the relationship between the
        Word/Torah and God that would have been conveyed to John’s Jewish
        readers. In the New Testament, as in classical Greek, the preposition
        πρὸς with an accusative object normally denotes motion
        towards the object, e.g., Jn. 1:42, “ἤγαγεν
        αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν
        Ιησοῦν,” “he brought him to Jesus.” It
        does not mean “with” in the sense that something is
        together with something else, as demonstrated by Jn. 7:33,
        “Ετι χρόνον μικρὸν μεθ'
        á½`μῶν εἰμι καὶ á½`πάγω πρὸς
        τὸν πέμψαντά με,” “I will be
        with you (μεθ' á½`μῶν) a little while longer, and then I
        am going to him who sent me (πρὸς τὸν
        πέμψαντά με).”

        With a static verb, πρὸσ can mean “with respect
        to,” “in relation to,” as in Acts 24:16, a
        blameless conscience “before God and men,”
        “πρὸσ τὸν θεὸν καὶ τοὺσ
        ἀνθρώπουσ,” or in Rom. 5:1,
        “εἰρήνην á¼"χομεν πρὸσ τὸν
        θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν
        Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,” “we have peace
        with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

        But to translate “ὁ λόγοσ ἦν πρὸσ
        τὸν θεόν” as “the Word was in relation to
        God” doesn’t work. The indefinite expression
        “τὰ πρὸσ τὸν θεόν” can be
        rendered “things pertaining to God,” or “religious
        matters,” as in Rom. 15:17, “I have found reason for
        boasting in things pertaining to God,” but surely John did not
        intend readers to understand that the Word was a “religious

        It should be kept in mind that the native language of both John and his
        “insider” audience was not Greek. In Semitic idiom,
        “in front of,” in Hebrew, “lifnei,”
        literally “to-the-face-of-” someone, in Aramaic,
        “kadam,” “before,” is used metaphorically to
        mean “in his presence” and at a higher remove,
        “mentally present,” i.e., in his awareness.

        When Paul says in Rom. 4:2, “if Abraham was justified by works,
        he has something to boast about, but not “πρὸσ
        θεόν,” he does not mean “but not [boasting] toward
        God,” but rather, not boasting “before God,” or
        “in God’s presence.”

        This is the sense in which the Word/Logos is said to be πρὸσ
        τὸν θεόν, reflecting a shift from the literal meaning
        of the Greek, “toward God,” through the literal Semitic
        “to God’s face,” “in front of God,”
        to the metaphorical Semitic, “in God’s presence,”
        “in God’s awareness.” When speaking of what was
        “in the beginning,” the temporal sense of
        “before” would render “the Word was before
        God” confusing; an appropriate translation might be “the
        Word was in God’s awareness,” or perhaps making God the
        subject, “God was conscious of the Word.”

        C.F. Burney, who argued that John’s Gospel is a translation of an
        Aramaic original, distinguished between New Testament
        “Hebraisms,” usages or idioms derived from biblical Hebrew
        via the Septuagint, and “Aramaisms,” which could be
        derived from Aramaic but not from Hebrew, although acknowledging
        “Semitisms” common to both languages. C.F. Burney, The
        Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922),
        7-17. Burney states that “the phrase πρὸσ τὸν
        θεόν in the sense ‘with God' is remarkable,” id.
        28, noting that in the Synoptics it is only found in Mark or material
        taken from Mark, and is an Aramaism. He hypothesized that “[i]n
        Aramaic the common preposition לְוָת (possibly akin to the
        verb לְוִ×" ‘join’) denotes (i) connexion with,
        apud, παρα , (2) motion towards, ad, πρόσ. It may be
        suggested that feeling for the second meaning so commonly borne by
        לְוָת has moved the translator of an Aramaic original to
        represent the preposition by πρόσ even when used in the
        former sense.” Id. 29.

        The Peshitta (the Aramaic translation of the New Testament) also uses
        לְוָת. However, I suggest both Burney and the translator of
        the Peshitta passed over the possible alternative Semitic sense of
        πρόσ because, in accordance with traditional Christian
        understanding they assumed that “the Word” is a person of
        equal dignity with God and consequently that πρὸσ τὸν
        θεόν was intended to mean “[together] with God”
        and not “in God’s presence.” According to Burney,
        this usage of πρόσ occurs only this once in John’s
        Gospel. John (or his translator) elsewhere knew and used the usual
        Greek prepositions meaning “with.”

        The universal English translation, “the Word was with
        God,” inclines the reader toward understanding “the
        Word” as it has traditionally been understood in Christian
        theology, as a separate hypostasis. But this would not necessarily have
        been the sense of the original Greek, particularly to one whose native
        idiom was Aramaic. To give an English example, if we read, “when
        the builder constructed the house, X was before him,” without
        being told what X might be, we naturally infer that X is something like
        a plan or model, either literally in front of the builder, or at least
        figuratively in front of him, “in his mind’s eye.”
        If instead we read, “when the builder constructed the house, X
        was with him,” we infer that X is not a thing, but a person, even
        though X could be replaced with “a blueprint,” or even
        “a hammer.”

        So at the creation, the Word, God’s ineffable Torah, was present
        to God’s consciousness, and we are told “καὶ
        θεὸσ ἦν ὁ λόγοσ.” But Torah, even
        personified in Jewish lore as “Wisdom,” is not God. John
        omits the definite article, and does not say, “καὶ ὁ
        θεὸσ ἦν ὁ λόγοσ,” as might be
        expected after “καὶ ὁ λόγοσ ἦν
        πρὸσ τὸν θεόν,” but “καὶ
        θεὸσ ἦν ὁ λόγοσ,” permitting
        θεὸσ to be read adjectivally, “and divine/supernal was
        the Word/Torah,” as if to make clear that this is not
        God’s Word in the form of the Torah we know, but the wholly
        divine version in God’s own consciousness.

        So even in this first verse, John may not be saying what we are
        accustomed to understanding him to say. Verse 2, “οὗτοσ
        ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸσ τὸν
        θεόν” “this was in the beginning in God’s
        awareness,” can be read as re-emphasizing the separation and
        distinction between Logos/Torah and God, so that verse 3,
        “πάντα δι? αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο,
        καὶ χωρὶσ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο
        οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν,” should be
        read, “all things came to be through it (Logos/Torah), and apart
        from it nothing came to be that came to be,” rather than
        “all things came to be through him. A Jew would have no
        difficulty in affirming that all things came to be
        “through” or “by means of” (Greek δια,
        Hebrew ×`-) God’s primal Torah.
        Kevin Snapp
      • Gary
        Hi Mark, Thanks for the encouraging comment. Sorry about the unintentional anonymity on the earlier posts (perhaps like John? :). Here s my normal email
        Message 3 of 15 , Dec 30, 2008
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          Hi Mark,

          Thanks for the encouraging comment. Sorry about the unintentional
          anonymity on the earlier posts (perhaps like John? :). Here's my normal
          email signature:
          Gary Manning, Ph.D.
          Interim Academic Dean
          Associate Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages
          Pacific Rim Bible College
        • Kevin Snapp
          Gary and Mark, Let me try to respond to Gary’s objection, and I ask Mark not to brush me off quite yet. There is a serious question here, even if you
          Message 4 of 15 , Dec 31, 2008
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            Gary and Mark,

            Let me try to respond to Gary’s objection, and I ask Mark not to brush
            me off quite yet. There is a serious question here, even if you don’t
            agree with my approach or answer to it.

            I put in my two cents’ worth because Marty’s exact question was what
            prompted me to look closely at John’s Gospel through a Jewish lens,
            leading, I think, to a whole new perspective that I am trying to nail
            down. My thesis, which I can hardly lay out here, is that John’s
            Gospel was written for two separate audiences. “Outsiders” would read
            John as consistent with the Synoptics, while Jewish “insiders” who
            knew to look for clues would find a different picture of Jesus. I'm
            not asking anyone to take something so radical seriously here, only to
            consider the possibility that there may be subtleties.

            I see two separate issues. The first is whether the use of “pros”
            with accusative object to mean “with” or something similar -- an
            important qualification -- is a semitism or whether this is using the
            preposition “in a fairly ordinary way.” Second, if it is a semitism,
            what difference might it make.

            I am not a Greek scholar, so my primary reference is my large Liddell
            and Scott, and I see no comparable usage listed outside the NT. Peter
            Philips, in his monograph on the prologue doesn’t either. The
            Prologue of the Fourth Gospel, London, T&T Clark (2006) 150 n. 30.
            Philips takes the problem seriously -- that normally “pros” with
            accusative means “toward,” static relationships are normally indicated
            by the dative, and that the author of John uses “pros” with static
            verb and dative object to express a locative relationship on four
            occasions, making the doubled usage in Jn. 1:1 with accusative unique
            in the Gospel, ibid. 151.

            Philips cites 27 examples in Strong’s concordance of “pros” with
            accusative object and a stative verb used “in a locative sense” in the
            NT, 4.3% of the occurrences of the preposition, ibid. 151 n.34.
            Philips offers a catalog of commentators’ understandings of “pros ton
            theon” in Jn. 1:1, but although mentioning in passing (151 n. 32) that
            it has been suggested that “pros” in Jn. 1:1 reflects Aramaic “lwat,”
            Philips offers no discussion of a possible Semitic idiom.

            Craig Keener’s two-volume commentary, which I bought because it is
            recent and thick, is disappointing. Keener states in a footnote that
            “[t]he construction here represents neither movement toward God
            [citations] nor an Aramaism [no citation]; by this period prepositions
            were becoming more ambiguous (cf., e.g., μετ’ αλληλων in 6:43 and προς
            αλληλους in 6:52).” Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary
            (Hendrickson, 2003) 370 n. 48. These examples are meaningless, as
            they represent different prepositions used with different verbs.

            I don’t believe many would say John is sloppy with prepositions.
            Zerwick notes that unlike some NT authors, John scrupulously
            distinguishes between “en” with dative denoting position and “eis”
            with accusative denoting motion. Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek,
            4th English ed. (Rome: Pont. Bib. Inst. 2005) 33-34. (The sole
            exception, in Jn. 1:18, is explained by my thesis.)

            Looking at NT scholarship as an outsider, this is surprising. Here
            is a Greek usage that is apparently found only in the NT, yet hardly
            anyone asks whether this might point to some common element in the
            backgrounds of a majority of NT authors that influenced their use of
            Greek, something not shared with other ancient authors. Put that way,
            the answer is obvious: a majority of the NT authors were Jews, who
            either spoke Aramaic as their first language or had been raised in
            communities where the Greek spoken was strongly influenced by Aramaic
            and/or Hebrew. It needn't have had any effect on the meaning, but
            it's possible.

            Christianity has always been a religion in translation, since it was
            understood that the Gospel was for all nations. But while the author
            of John was a Christian believer, he was also an educated Jew. Jews
            had a different attitude toward their scriptures, which were written
            for one people only. In particular, the Torah, believed to have been
            dictated by God to Moses, surely contained endless mysteries yet
            undiscovered, making real translation impossible and endowing every
            textual quirk with potential meaning. Essential for salvation, of
            course not. But essential for understanding.

            Paul and Mark are well known for their Semitic usages. I don’t think
            that today it is debated that the author of John’s Gospel was a
            Palestinian Jew, and he quite possibly also wrote 1John. C.F. Burney
            in The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
            1922), was so impressed with John’s semitic idiom that he tried to
            prove John’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic.

            Luke’s native tongue was Greek, although he affects Semitic diction
            when imitating the Septuagint, the Bible known to most Gentiles and to
            western diaspora Jews, and the Septuagint is full of semitisms. But
            when Luke quotes Mark, as in your example, Lk 9:41, he is quoting Mk
            9:19, Mark’s Semitic idiom comes along for the ride.

            So I think my assertion that this is a semitism holds up. The next
            question is what difference it makes, which is harder.

            It’s necessary to frame the question properly. It is tempting to say,
            “since a stative verb + pros + accusative object means ‘with’ at a, b
            and c in Mark and Luke, its usage in Jn 1:1 isn’t anything special.”
            But that would be a form of circular reasoning, essentially concluding
            that if “with” works as a translation, that’s good enough.

            Obviously, if something is off in left field it won’t work at all, but
            there is a difference between, e.g., “I don’t want you with me,” and
            “I don’t want you in my presence.” Although at a crude level they
            mean the same thing, the difference says a great deal about the
            relationship between the persons involved. I believe John is saying,
            to those aware of the Semitic idiom, that the Word was in God’s
            presence, implying that the Word is not a person, while allowing those
            who are unaware of that idiom to believe that “pros ton theon” is just
            an odd way of saying “with God” as one Person is with another.

            Starting with Philips' 27 occurrences of “pros” with accusative and
            stative verb in a locative sense, taking away the two we are trying to
            interpret in Jn. 1:1 and the two in 1 Jn. dependent on them, we have
            23: Mt. 13.56; Mk. 6.3, 9.10, 9.19, 14.49; Lk. 9.41, 18.11; 1 Cor.
            2.3, 16.7, 16.10; 2 Cor. 6.14, 6.15, 11.9, 12.21; Gal. 1.18, 2.5,
            4.18, 4.20; 1Thess. 3.4; 2 Thess. 2.5, 3.10; Phil. 1.3; and Heb. 4.13.

            Removing Lk. 9:41 and Mt. 13:56, both of which copy Mark, leaves 21.
            Luke 18:11 is out, because the direction of speech is a conventional
            use of “pros” with accusative; the Pharisee, standing, “to himself
            prayed thus, ‘O God ...’” “προς εαυτον ταυτα προσηυχετο ο θεος ...”
            Note that since the similar usages in Matthew and Luke were copied
            directly from Mark, all of those in the Gospels originate with Mark
            except for our problematic John 1:1.

            It is late and this is already a long post. I expect to return in a
            day or two and go down the list of the remaining twenty. Although
            many can be translated by “with,” I believe none corresponds to the
            situation assumed in Jn. 1:1, where one person is “with” another, and
            I think I can make a case that that “the Word was in God’s presence”
            is a preferable translation. And if I’m not back before 2009, Happy
            New Year to all.

            --- In johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com, "Gary"
            <gary.t.manning@...> wrote:
            > I appreciate the efforts of Kevin and Gary. However, in order for
            > their arguments to carry serious weight, they would have to show us
            > why pros is translated as "with" in other settings that will not
            > carry the meanings that they suggest. Here are a few of the other
            > texts where pros is usually translated as with:
            > Mk 14:49 "Every day I was _with_ you in the temple..."
            > Lk 9:41 "You unbelieving and wicked generation, how long shall I be
            > _with_ you...?"
            > 1 Cor 2:3 "I was _with_ you in weakness and much fear..."
            > 1 Cor 16:10 "If Timothy comes, see to it that he is _with_ you
            > without cause to be afraid... "
            > 2 Thess 2:5 "Don't you remember that when I was still _with_ you, I
            > was telling you these things?"
            > 2 Thes 3:10 "Even when we were _with_ you, we used to order..."
            > 1 Jn 1:2 "... we proclaim to you the eternal life which was _with_
            > the father..."
            > Note that all of these combine eimi or ginomai with pros (although
            > not every such combination should be translated as "to be with").
            > Since all of these examples (and I am sure there are others) have the
            > very simple meaning of being present with someone, it does not seem
            > that there is good evidence to see any special meaning for pros in Jn
            > 1:1-2.
            > It is risky to base any interpretation too strongly on the use of
            > prepositions, because prepositions in most languages are so flexible
            > and idiomatic. Any argument of the sort "this preposition always
            > means x" is suspect, since context is so important for determining
            > the meaning of a preposition (or any word, for that matter).
            > We could make a similar error in English by saying that the word "at"
            > always implies direction or orientation - and then be confused by the
            > idiomatic expression "someone is at the door." Clearly, in that
            > case, "at" means "next to," and even implies "waiting for someone."
            > With the examples from elsewhere in the NT that I gave above, I think
            > it is pretty clear that pros is being used here in a fairly ordinary
            > way. In order for someone to make the case that pros implies
            > orientation or "in God's awareness," we would need a number of other
            > examples from Hellenistic Greek to prove the case. To claim a
            > semitism does not really help here, unless we can find other examples
            > of unusual and relevant uses of pros by an author who was influenced
            > by a semitic language.
          • Kevin Snapp
            Hello, Gary, If the purpose of your post was to warn someone without background in NT scholarship that what I suggested should not be taken as authoritative,
            Message 5 of 15 , Jan 1, 2009
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              Hello, Gary,

              If the purpose of your post was to warn someone without background in
              NT scholarship that what I suggested should not be taken as
              authoritative, fine, but I doubt that anyone could make that mistake.
              If you want to teach me or advance the discussion, you will need to
              be specific.

              "Fact" and "assumption" are a false dichotomy. We have no "facts"
              in the sense of generally undisputed historical truths concerning the
              author of the Fourth Gospel and his community; there is debate even
              as to who the author was. There are only inferences, more or less
              supported (or supportable) and more or less accepted among scholars.
              In calling into question the accepted understanding of "pros ton
              theon" I was proposing something outside the scholarly "mainstream,"
              but in proposing it I don't believe I was assuming anything outside
              the mainstream with respect to the matters you cryptically mention.

              I did assert (or "assume") certain things without giving reasons, but
              I believe they are reasonably well-supported in the literature. I
              accept that the author of John's Gospel -- the first author, not
              necessarily the last contributor -- was a Palestinian Jew, that
              his own community was Jewish, that he knew Jewish laws and customs,
              that he was familiar with much of the Bible in Hebrew as well as in
              Greek, and that the prologue reflects familiarity with Jewish
              extra-canonical oral and written traditions relating the "Wisdom"
              figure of Proverbs, the Torah and God. The author wrote the Gospel
              intending both that it would be preserved within his own
              Jewish-Christian community and be disseminated among other Christian
              communities, Jewish, Gentile and mixed.

              I am aware that some highly-respected scholars have taken the position
              that the prologue was originally a separate composition, but my
              assumption (I have reasons, but assume it here) that it is an integral
              part of the Gospel is, if anything, a conservative one.

              I think this is all mainstream, even if not all undisputed. What
              assumptions do you believe I am making that are unsupported and/or
              outside the mainstream of Johannine scholarship?


              --- In johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com, "Gary Henecke"
              <ghenecke@...> wrote:
              > A lot of assumptions her as fact: assumptions on the language of the
              first readers, and the community of the first readers, and John's
              intent or understanding from the Midrash writings - even John's
              knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures versus the LXX.
              > Your brother
              > Gary Allen Henecke
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