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Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Was" and "Beginning" in John 1:1

"Was" and "Beginning" in John 1:1

"in beginning was the word, and the word was with the god, and god was the word."

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν λόγος, καὶ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν λόγος.

In an on-line discussion I discussed "was" and "beginning" as used in John 1:1 with a young trinitarian scholar (YTS). She claimed that the author of 'The Johannine Prologue' speaks of the ETERNAL Word, but the only relevant evidence she showed for this that I found was in her interpretation of the words "in the beginning" and "was." ('Poetic structure' and the alleged significant contrast between "was" and "became" are extremely weak arguments indeed and far from being anything more than wishful thinking.)

"Beginning" (arkhe or arche) means a certain point in time, and despite all the terminology, verbose speculation, and wishful thinking, it still remains a set point in time. It does not indicate eternal (for which the scripture writers had adequate terms when they wished to use them). "In the beginning" can refer to numerous things, but it never means that thing existed before.

For example:

"In the beginning, John was afraid to jump out the airplane door." This has nothing to do with eternity. It is a single point in time when John first attempted to jump from an airplane.

"In the beginning" at John 1:1 may refer to the point in time, before the angels were created. Or more likely, it refers to the point in time when the universe (or the earth) was created. In any case, the Word could have existed for some time prior to that time, but would not necessarily have existed eternally!

Yes, if John had wished to mean 'eternal' he would have said "from eternity the Word was" or its equivalent.

The young trinitarian student (YTS) showed the connection between Proverbs 8 and Wisdom/Word. Proverbs 8:22 is quoted by her as:

"Proverbs 8:22-23 says of Wisdom, 'The Lord created me at the beginning . . . from of old I was poured forth, at first, before the earth was created.' Thus, while, unlike the Word, Wisdom was created, it existed at the beginning before the creation of the world."

But Wisdom here (according to even many trinitarian scholars and most - if not all - early Christian writers of the first 3 centuries) is supposed to be an important element for John's understanding of the Word! So to deny the creation of the Word and accept the creation of the Wisdom of God at the 'beginning' is not reasonable. - See "Wisdom" and Christ in the BWF study.

Jesus was called the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), which we see being created at the beginning in Prov. 8.

Jesus is called the "beginning of God's creation" (Rev. 3:14).

Jesus is called "the Firstborn of Creation" (Col. 1:15). "Firstborn" means that there are others "born" or created after him. The firstborn of (not 'over') creation means he was the first to be created by God (the beginning) and then through him came the rest of creation. - See Firstborn (Prototokos) in the BWF study.

"The BAGD, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt (Translator), F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker (Editor), has been revised as the BDAG. On page 138, the interpretation of Rev 3:14 that '[arche] of creation' means that Christ was created has been upgraded from poss. [possible] to prob. [probable]

"BDAG states that the meaning 'beginning = first created' for ARXH [arkhe]  in Rev 3:14 'is linguistically probable.'  The sense 'origin'  or 'source' hardly seems to fit the context of Rev 3:14. This meaning of the word does not seem to figure in biblical usages here or elsewhere. See Job 40:19." - quoted from a NT Greek theology group on Yahoo.

So, at some point in all eternity, there was a beginning of something (probably the creation of our universe) and at that point the Word existed. He could have come into existence at that point, but since he created all other created things, he probably was begotten/created some time before so that he could be the master workman through whom God created the universe.

As for the word "was" (considered to be in the imperfect tense), it can be seen simply by examining the many other uses of "was" (ἦν   - looks like nv in Greek characters and when using the Symbol font is represented with the 'hn' keystrokes.) in the writings of John that it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with eternity. This examination YTS refused to do.

She was presented with evidence from grammar texts that certain forms of the imperfect have a starting point, a beginning:

- See Dana and Mantey, pp. 190-191 ("Inceptive Imperfect") and Moule, p. 9 (Inceptive Imperfect is "frequent in the N.T.").

In the introduction of the NASB it says: “Greek Tenses: 1. A careful distinction has been made in the treatment of the Greek aorist tense (usually translated as the English past. “He did”) and the Greek imperfect tense (rendered either as English past progressive, “He was doing”; or if inceptive, as “He began to do” or “He started to do”); …. “Began” is italicized [in the NASB] if it renders an imperfect tense, in order to distinguish it from the Greek verb for “begin.” - The Lockman Foundation, 1971.

We also can find this readily-found concept in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel B. Wallace (1996) which also says of the "Ingresssive (Inchoative, Inceptive) Imperfect":

"1. Definition - The imperfect is often used to stress the beginning of an action, with the implication that it continued for some time. 2. Clarification and Amplification - The difference between the ingressive imperfect and the ingressive aorist is that the imperfect stresses beginning, but implies that the action continues, while the aorist stresses beginning, but does not imply that action continues." - p. 544. Wallace, by the way, certainly doesn't mind frequently quoting from and referring to A.T. Robertson's classic Grammar (in spite of YTS' firm rejection of it).

"James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek.
Lanham: University Press of America, 1979.

"Imperfect Tense - Linear, progressive action (in past time)
"1. descriptive imperfect (progressive, most common)
2. durative imperfect (continual action that is completed)
3. iterative imperfect (repetition of action, custom)
4. tendential imperfect (attempted but not completed)
5. voluntative imperfect (expression of desire)
6. inceptive [aoristic] imperfect (emphasis on the beginning of the action)"

A Greek Grammar for Colleges, Smyth, p.426, #1900:
“Inchoative Imperfect - The imperfect may denote the beginning of an action or of a series of actions ….”,+greek+grammar&as_brr=1&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

Here's what YTS was presented with in my previous posts (which she refused to address):

Let's look at a few examples in the writings of John (since we are investigating John's intended meaning here):

John 9:8 - "they that saw him aforetime, that he was [ἦν] a beggar" - ASV.

These people knew that the blind man had continued to be a beggar for a long time. .... And yet we certainly shouldn't try to put an "eternal" (or even a future 'continuing') meaning on it. The blind man certainly was not a beggar for all eternity. He was not a beggar before he was born on earth. He probably was not a beggar as a newborn infant. He probably became a beggar as a young man or youth. So en ("was") here still indicates something that had a beginning and then continued [up until the time the Jews said or thought it and probably did not continue after that].

John 9:16 - "there was [ἦν] a division among them" - ASV.

The division was over whether the one who had just cured the blind man was from God or not. Since the blind man had JUST been healed, it is obvious that this particular "division" actually BEGAN ("was") at this time. It obviously means, "At this time there began to be [or 'came to be'] a division among them."

John 10:22 (or 23) - "it was [ἦν] winter" - ASV.

Whether it is called an imperfect tense or not, it is still very clear that it hadn't been winter for all eternity. It either means "winter had just begun at this time" or "winter had begun a short time [months at most] ago." But there can be absolutely no doubt that it had recently come into existence.

John 12:6 - "he was [ἦν] a thief" - ASV.

I hope no one insists that Judas was really a thief from all eternity! However, if they do, it is no more unreasonable to insist that Jesus was "with God" from all eternity in the same sense that Judas "existed as a thief from all eternity."

John 8:44 tells us of Satan: "that (one) man-killer [or 'manslayer,' Strong's Concordance; NAS Concordance; Thayer; etc.] was [ἦν] from the beginning."

According to the same reasoning of some concerning the "eternal" [ἦν] ("was") "in the beginning" of Jesus at Jn 1:1, Satan himself must be "eternal," and by this specious reasoning must, therefore, be God Himself! Either was" [ἦν] in this scripture does not mean an eternal existence, or, if it does, then Jesus can certainly be just as "eternal" as Satan himself and still not be God! (Of course, Satan had a beginning and will have an end!)

Added later:

The word [ἦν], like the other "be" verbs, simply shows existence. It obviously does not indicate the length of that existence. Even the very early Christian scholar, Tertullian [ca. 200 A.D.], who many trinitarians claim was one of the founders of the Trinity Doctrine, said the same!

Tertullian wrote concerning the word 'was' [en, Septuagint] at Gen. 1:1, 2: "But you [the heretic Hermogenes] ... say: 'There is the 'was,' looking as if it pointed to an eternal existence, - making its subject, of course, unbegotten and unmade....' Well now, for my own part, I [Tertullian] shall resort to no affected protestation, but simply reply that 'was' [ἦν] may be predicated of everything - even a thing which has been created, which was born, which once was not .... For of everything which has being, from whatever source it has it, whether it has it by a beginning or without a beginning, the word 'was' will be predicated from the very fact that it exists." - 'Against Hermogenes,' Ch. xxvii, as translated on p. 492, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993 printing.


Also examine the following uses of the imperfect 'was' (ἦν) and the equally imperfect 'were': John 1:10; Jn 1:39; Jn 2:1; Jn 2:23; Jn 3:26; Jn 4:6 (hour); Jn 5:1; Jn 5:9 (sabbath); 5:35; Jn 6:4; Jn 7:42; Jn 18:1 (garden); Jn 18:13 (2); Jn 19:14 (2); Jn 19:31(preparation); plural form: John 20:26; Rev. 4:11 "they were"; Rev. 17:8: "the beast you saw was (ἦν), but is not," 2 Peter 3:5 there were heavens long ago [which God had created "in the beginning" according to Genesis 1:1].

For example: John 1:10 - "He was [ἦν] in the world that had come into being [egeneto] through him, and the world did not recognise him." - NJB.

YTS:  "However, the writer of the Johannine Prologue by design deliberately contrasts the imperfect ἦν (was) with the aorist egeneto (he/it came to be) in this context to contrast the logos Word/word) to be seen as extant in linear aspect, having no beginning nor ending, with the 'all things' that egeneto ("came to be") at a definitive point in time (John 1:3) and, especially, again with the use of the self-same egeneto ("came to be"), over against John the Baptist who 'came to be' at a point in time (John 1:6)."

So, to paraphrase YTS above:

"However, the writer of the Johannine Prologue by design deliberately contrasts the imperfect  hn [ἦν] ("was") of John 1:10 with the aorist egeneto (he/it came to be) in this context to contrast the logos (Word/word) to be seen as extant in linear aspect, having no beginning nor ending 'in the world,' with the world that egeneto ('came to be') at a definitive point in time".

Or, in other words, The writer of this verse is 'deliberately contrasting' the Word's eternal time existing in the world with the point in time when the world began!

This is clearly nonsense! Obviously the verb 'was' (ἦν) here in the Prologue itself cannot mean eternal or "having no beginning nor ending"! The Word could not have been eternally "in the world" before the world even began!!

John 7:42 - "... Bethlehem, the village where David was [ἦν]." - NJB.

Bethlehem was the city of David's ancestors. Most of his life was not spent there. Therefore, in spite of the imperfect 'was' [hn, ἦν], David was certainly not eternally there (before, during, or after his life). Instead he had his beginning ("in the beginning") there!!

Rev. 4:11 - "Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou [the one seated on the throne, the Father - see Rev. 5:6, 7] didst create all things, and because of thy will they were [hsan - inceptive imperfect], and were created." - ASV.

You will find that many Bibles even translate the imperfect "were[hsan], here as "they came into existence," e.g., NAB; ISV NT; GodsWord; Weymouth NT; C.B. Williams.

Rev. 17:8 - "The beast that you saw was [ἦν], and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss" - NASB.

Surely no one would say that the beast had existed for all eternity making it equal to God!

There are many more such uses of "was" which clearly show that the word seldom - if ever - denotes eternal existence, but are clearly shown to be describing a point in time or a period of time which had a beginning.

Therefore, the appeal to the meanings of "in the beginning" and "was" in John 1:1 as somehow showing that the Word must have had an eternal existence is totally specious.

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