Re: [John_Lit] Re: 'The Word was toward God' question
- 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]
- 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.
Gary Allen Henecke
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Kevin Snapp
Sent: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:39 PM
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 â€œthe Wordâ€ in
Johnâ€™s context as referring to Torah -- not the Torah read in
synagogues, but Godâ€™s supernal Torah, the â€œKing of
Kingâ€™s Authorized Version,â€ as it were. Jewish midrash
portrays God as consulting His Torah as a blueprint, as it were, before
creating the world, and for Johnâ€™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, â€œThe Lord made me as the
beginning of His way,â€ was commonly known among educated Jews in
the first century.]
Although the New Testament normally renders â€œTorahâ€ as
â€œÎ½Î¿Î¼Î¿Ï‚,â€ â€œlaw,â€ here John is speaking
of Godâ€™s Torah, which for God is not â€œlaw,â€ but the
divine reason, intelligence and design-- a concept appropriately
rendered as â€œÎ»ÏŒÎ³Î¿Ï‚.â€
I contend that the accepted translation, â€œthe Word was with
God,â€ does not properly express the relationship between the
Word/Torah and God that would have been conveyed to Johnâ€™s Jewish
readers. In the New Testament, as in classical Greek, the preposition
Ï€Ïá½¸Ï‚ with an accusative object normally denotes motion
towards the object, e.g., Jn. 1:42, â€œá¼¤Î³Î±Î³ÎµÎ½
Î±á½Ï„á½¸Î½ Ï€Ïá½¸Ï‚ Ï„á½¸Î½
Î™Î·ÏƒÎ¿á¿¦Î½,â€ â€œhe brought him to Jesus.â€ It
does not mean â€œwithâ€ in the sense that something is
together with something else, as demonstrated by Jn. 7:33,
â€œÎ•Ï„Î¹ Ï‡ÏÏŒÎ½Î¿Î½ Î¼Î¹ÎºÏá½¸Î½ Î¼ÎµÎ¸'
á½`Î¼á¿¶Î½ Îµá¼°Î¼Î¹ ÎºÎ±á½¶ á½`Ï€Î¬Î³Ï‰ Ï€Ïá½¸Ï‚
Ï„á½¸Î½ Ï€ÎÎ¼ÏˆÎ±Î½Ï„Î¬ Î¼Îµ,â€ â€œI will be
with you (Î¼ÎµÎ¸' á½`Î¼á¿¶Î½) a little while longer, and then I
am going to him who sent me (Ï€Ïá½¸Ï‚ Ï„á½¸Î½
With a static verb, Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ can mean â€œwith respect
to,â€ â€œin relation to,â€ as in Acts 24:16, a
blameless conscience â€œbefore God and men,â€
â€œÏ€Ïá½¸Ïƒ Ï„á½¸Î½ Î¸Îµá½¸Î½ ÎºÎ±á½¶ Ï„Î¿á½ºÏƒ
á¼€Î½Î¸ÏÏŽÏ€Î¿Ï…Ïƒ,â€ or in Rom. 5:1,
â€œÎµá¼°ÏÎ®Î½Î·Î½ á¼"Ï‡Î¿Î¼ÎµÎ½ Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ Ï„á½¸Î½
Î¸Îµá½¸Î½ Î´Î¹á½° Ï„Î¿á¿¦ ÎºÏ…ÏÎ¯Î¿Ï… á¼¡Î¼á¿¶Î½
á¼¸Î·ÏƒÎ¿á¿¦ Î§ÏÎ¹ÏƒÏ„Î¿á¿¦,â€ â€œwe have peace
with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.â€
But to translate â€œá½ Î»ÏŒÎ³Î¿Ïƒ á¼¦Î½ Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ
Ï„á½¸Î½ Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½â€ as â€œthe Word was in relation to
Godâ€ doesnâ€™t work. The indefinite expression
â€œÏ„á½° Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ Ï„á½¸Î½ Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½â€ can be
rendered â€œthings pertaining to God,â€ or â€œreligious
matters,â€ as in Rom. 15:17, â€œI have found reason for
boasting in things pertaining to God,â€ but surely John did not
intend readers to understand that the Word was a â€œreligious
It should be kept in mind that the native language of both John and his
â€œinsiderâ€ audience was not Greek. In Semitic idiom,
â€œin front of,â€ in Hebrew, â€œlifnei,â€
literally â€œto-the-face-of-â€ someone, in Aramaic,
â€œkadam,â€ â€œbefore,â€ is used metaphorically to
mean â€œin his presenceâ€ and at a higher remove,
â€œmentally present,â€ i.e., in his awareness.
When Paul says in Rom. 4:2, â€œif Abraham was justified by works,
he has something to boast about, but not â€œÏ€Ïá½¸Ïƒ
Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½,â€ he does not mean â€œbut not [boasting] toward
God,â€ but rather, not boasting â€œbefore God,â€ or
â€œin Godâ€™s presence.â€
This is the sense in which the Word/Logos is said to be Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ
Ï„á½¸Î½ Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½, reflecting a shift from the literal meaning
of the Greek, â€œtoward God,â€ through the literal Semitic
â€œto Godâ€™s face,â€ â€œin front of God,â€
to the metaphorical Semitic, â€œin Godâ€™s presence,â€
â€œin Godâ€™s awareness.â€ When speaking of what was
â€œin the beginning,â€ the temporal sense of
â€œbeforeâ€ would render â€œthe Word was before
Godâ€ confusing; an appropriate translation might be â€œthe
Word was in Godâ€™s awareness,â€ or perhaps making God the
subject, â€œGod was conscious of the Word.â€
C.F. Burney, who argued that Johnâ€™s Gospel is a translation of an
Aramaic original, distinguished between New Testament
â€œHebraisms,â€ usages or idioms derived from biblical Hebrew
via the Septuagint, and â€œAramaisms,â€ which could be
derived from Aramaic but not from Hebrew, although acknowledging
â€œSemitismsâ€ common to both languages. C.F. Burney, The
Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922),
7-17. Burney states that â€œthe phrase Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ Ï„á½¸Î½
Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½ in the sense â€˜with God' is remarkable,â€ 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 â€œ[i]n
Aramaic the common preposition ×œÖ°×•Ö¸×ª (possibly akin to the
verb ×œÖ°×•Ö´×" â€˜joinâ€™) denotes (i) connexion with,
apud, Ï€Î±ÏÎ± , (2) motion towards, ad, Ï€ÏÏŒÏƒ. It may be
suggested that feeling for the second meaning so commonly borne by
×œÖ°×•Ö¸×ª has moved the translator of an Aramaic original to
represent the preposition by Ï€ÏÏŒÏƒ even when used in the
former sense.â€ Id. 29.
The Peshitta (the Aramaic translation of the New Testament) also uses
×œÖ°×•Ö¸×ª. However, I suggest both Burney and the translator of
the Peshitta passed over the possible alternative Semitic sense of
Ï€ÏÏŒÏƒ because, in accordance with traditional Christian
understanding they assumed that â€œthe Wordâ€ is a person of
equal dignity with God and consequently that Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ Ï„á½¸Î½
Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½ was intended to mean â€œ[together] with Godâ€
and not â€œin Godâ€™s presence.â€ According to Burney,
this usage of Ï€ÏÏŒÏƒ occurs only this once in Johnâ€™s
Gospel. John (or his translator) elsewhere knew and used the usual
Greek prepositions meaning â€œwith.â€
The universal English translation, â€œthe Word was with
God,â€ inclines the reader toward understanding â€œthe
Wordâ€ 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, â€œwhen
the builder constructed the house, X was before him,â€ 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, â€œin his mindâ€™s eye.â€
If instead we read, â€œwhen the builder constructed the house, X
was with him,â€ we infer that X is not a thing, but a person, even
though X could be replaced with â€œa blueprint,â€ or even
So at the creation, the Word, Godâ€™s ineffable Torah, was present
to Godâ€™s consciousness, and we are told â€œÎºÎ±á½¶
Î¸Îµá½¸Ïƒ á¼¦Î½ á½ Î»ÏŒÎ³Î¿Ïƒ.â€ But Torah, even
personified in Jewish lore as â€œWisdom,â€ is not God. John
omits the definite article, and does not say, â€œÎºÎ±á½¶ á½
Î¸Îµá½¸Ïƒ á¼¦Î½ á½ Î»ÏŒÎ³Î¿Ïƒ,â€ as might be
expected after â€œÎºÎ±á½¶ á½ Î»ÏŒÎ³Î¿Ïƒ á¼¦Î½
Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ Ï„á½¸Î½ Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½,â€ but â€œÎºÎ±á½¶
Î¸Îµá½¸Ïƒ á¼¦Î½ á½ Î»ÏŒÎ³Î¿Ïƒ,â€ permitting
Î¸Îµá½¸Ïƒ to be read adjectivally, â€œand divine/supernal was
the Word/Torah,â€ as if to make clear that this is not
Godâ€™s Word in the form of the Torah we know, but the wholly
divine version in Godâ€™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, â€œÎ¿á½—Ï„Î¿Ïƒ
á¼¦Î½ á¼Î½ á¼€ÏÏ‡á¿‡ Ï€Ïá½¸Ïƒ Ï„á½¸Î½
Î¸ÎµÏŒÎ½â€ â€œthis was in the beginning in Godâ€™s
awareness,â€ can be read as re-emphasizing the separation and
distinction between Logos/Torah and God, so that verse 3,
â€œÏ€Î¬Î½Ï„Î± Î´Î¹? Î±á½Ï„Î¿á¿¦ á¼Î³ÎÎ½ÎµÏ„Î¿,
ÎºÎ±á½¶ Ï‡Ï‰Ïá½¶Ïƒ Î±á½Ï„Î¿á¿¦ á¼Î³ÎÎ½ÎµÏ„Î¿
Î¿á½Î´á½² á¼•Î½ á½ƒ Î³ÎÎ³Î¿Î½ÎµÎ½,â€ should be
read, â€œall things came to be through it (Logos/Torah), and apart
from it nothing came to be that came to be,â€ rather than
â€œall things came to be through him. A Jew would have no
difficulty in affirming that all things came to be
â€œthroughâ€ or â€œby means ofâ€ (Greek Î´Î¹Î±,
Hebrew ×`-) Godâ€™s primal Torah.
- Hi Mark,
Thanks for the encouraging comment. Sorry about the unintentional
anonymity on the earlier posts (perhaps like John? :). Here's my normal
Gary Manning, Ph.D.
Interim Academic Dean
Associate Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages
Pacific Rim Bible College
- Gary and Mark,
Let me try to respond to Garyâs objection, and I ask Mark not to brush
me off quite yet. There is a serious question here, even if you donât
agree with my approach or answer to it.
I put in my two centsâ worth because Martyâs exact question was what
prompted me to look closely at Johnâs 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 Johnâs
Gospel was written for two separate audiences. âOutsidersâ would read
John as consistent with the Synoptics, while Jewish âinsidersâ 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 âprosâ
with accusative object to mean âwithâ or something similar -- an
important qualification -- is a semitism or whether this is using the
preposition âin a fairly ordinary way.â 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 doesnât either. The
Prologue of the Fourth Gospel, London, T&T Clark (2006) 150 n. 30.
Philips takes the problem seriously -- that normally âprosâ with
accusative means âtoward,â static relationships are normally indicated
by the dative, and that the author of John uses âprosâ 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 Strongâs concordance of âprosâ with
accusative object and a stative verb used âin a locative senseâ in the
NT, 4.3% of the occurrences of the preposition, ibid. 151 n.34.
Philips offers a catalog of commentatorsâ understandings of âpros ton
theonâ in Jn. 1:1, but although mentioning in passing (151 n. 32) that
it has been suggested that âprosâ in Jn. 1:1 reflects Aramaic âlwat,â
Philips offers no discussion of a possible Semitic idiom.
Craig Keenerâs two-volume commentary, which I bought because it is
recent and thick, is disappointing. Keener states in a footnote that
â[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., Î¼ÎµÏâ Î±Î»Î»Î·Î»ÏÎ½ in 6:43 and ÏÏÎ¿Ï
Î±Î»Î»Î·Î»Î¿Ï Ï in 6:52).â 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 donât believe many would say John is sloppy with prepositions.
Zerwick notes that unlike some NT authors, John scrupulously
distinguishes between âenâ with dative denoting position and âeisâ
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
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 donât think
that today it is debated that the author of Johnâs 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 Johnâs semitic idiom that he tried to
prove Johnâs Gospel was originally written in Aramaic.
Lukeâs 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, Markâs 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.
Itâs necessary to frame the question properly. It is tempting to say,
âsince a stative verb + pros + accusative object means âwithâ at a, b
and c in Mark and Luke, its usage in Jn 1:1 isnât anything special.â
But that would be a form of circular reasoning, essentially concluding
that if âwithâ works as a translation, thatâs good enough.
Obviously, if something is off in left field it wonât work at all, but
there is a difference between, e.g., âI donât want you with me,â and
âI donât want you in my presence.â 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 Godâs
presence, implying that the Word is not a person, while allowing those
who are unaware of that idiom to believe that âpros ton theonâ is just
an odd way of saying âwith Godâ as one Person is with another.
Starting with Philips' 27 occurrences of âprosâ 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 âprosâ with accusative; the Pharisee, standing, âto himself
prayed thus, âO God ...ââ âÏÏÎ¿Ï ÎµÎ±Ï ÏÎ¿Î½ ÏÎ±Ï ÏÎ± ÏÏÎ¿ÏÎ·Ï ÏÎµÏÎ¿ Î¿ Î¸ÎµÎ¿Ï ...â
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 âwith,â I believe none corresponds to the
situation assumed in Jn. 1:1, where one person is âwithâ another, and
I think I can make a case that that âthe Word was in Godâs presenceâ
is a preferable translation. And if Iâm not back before 2009, Happy
New Year to all.
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "Gary"
> 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
> 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.
- 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
"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 email@example.com, "Gary Henecke"
>first readers, and the community of the first readers, and John's
> A lot of assumptions her as fact: assumptions on the language of the
intent or understanding from the Midrash writings - even John's
knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures versus the LXX.
> Your brother
> Gary Allen Henecke