John 1:9

How do I work out the meaning of a Greek text? How can I best understand the forms and vocabulary in this particular text?
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John 1:9

Postby rhutchin » September 5th, 2012, 2:59 pm

John 1:9-10
9 Ήν το φως το άληθινον ὸ φωτιζει παντα άνθρωπον έρχομενον εις τον κοσμον 10 έν τῳ κοσμῳ ἠν ...

Translators take this verse two different ways. They are:

1. That was the true light, which lighteth every man coming into the world; and
2. That was the true light which, coming into the world, lighteth every man. (NET Bible supports this sense.)

Given the confusion (at least, to me), is this an example of poor Greek writing skills by a non-native Greek speaker or could it have been purposely written this way with the natural expectation that the reader would link έρχομενον εις τον κοσμον with the following έν τῳ κοσμῳ ήν and naturally read v9 per translation 2 above?

Is there a grammatical reason for structuring the sentence in this manner which seems confusing to us 2000 years later but may possibly have been quite ordinary back then?

Roger Hutchinson
Last edited by Stephen Carlson on September 6th, 2012, 3:21 am, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: Corrected Greek text
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Re: John 1:9

Postby Stephen Carlson » September 6th, 2012, 3:29 am

This is one of the cases where the spoken phrasing of the verse would be clearer than putting them down in writing. Basically, your option 1 would have no pause between ἄνθρωπον and ἒρχόμενον while your option 2 would have a pause between ἄνθρωπον and ἒρχόμενον. The NA27 critical edition indicates its preference for the latter option by putting a comma there to mark a pause.

Even without the punctuation in writing or the pause in speaking, I would still prefer option 2 because the context is about the true light which was in the world (v.10). As to the first option, I don't see the purpose of talking about every person who comes into the world: Are there people who don't come into the world?

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Re: John 1:9

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » September 6th, 2012, 9:26 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:As to the first option, I don't see the purpose of talking about every person who comes into the world: Are there people who don't come into the world?

I don't think it's that simple. There are several ways to emphasize "every one" in different languages, for example "every x on earth" or something like that. It's semantically empty because every x is, broadly speaking, on earth anyways. If a Greek literary parallel for "every person coming to the world" is found I'm willing to take it as an idiom. But if not, the context speaks for the light as coming.
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Re: John 1:9

Postby Jason Hare » September 6th, 2012, 10:25 am

rhutchin wrote:John 1:9-10
9 Ήν το φως το άληθινον ὸ φωτιζει παντα άνθρωπον έρχομενον εις τον κοσμον 10 έν τῳ κοσμῳ ἠν ...

Translators take this verse two different ways. They are:

1. That was the true light, which lighteth every man coming into the world; and
2. That was the true light which, coming into the world, lighteth every man. (NET Bible supports this sense.)

Given the confusion (at least, to me), is this an example of poor Greek writing skills by a non-native Greek speaker or could it have been purposely written this way with the natural expectation that the reader would link έρχομενον εις τον κοσμον with the following έν τῳ κοσμῳ ήν and naturally read v9 per translation 2 above?

Is there a grammatical reason for structuring the sentence in this manner which seems confusing to us 2000 years later but may possibly have been quite ordinary back then?

Roger Hutchinson


Seems to me that you've ignored the obvious majority take on the verse, which is that ἦν... ἐρχόμενον is periphrastic with τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν as the subject. This is also how the NA27 distinguishes it through use of commas.

That is, the true light, which gives light to every man [all mankind], was coming into the world....

This seems more reasonable to me.
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Re: John 1:9

Postby Dean_Poulos » September 7th, 2012, 11:03 am

Seems to me that you've ignored the obvious majority take on the verse, which is that ἦν... ἐρχόμενον is periphrastic with τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν as the subject. This is also how the NA27 distinguishes it through use of commas.


Jason, don't shoot the beginner, ;) however the NET notes indicate this is common for John cf. Jn. 12.46 “ἐγὼ φῶς εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἐλήλυθα” “I have come as a light into the world” as well as pointing out “all who come into the world” was common for [every man] or everyone for the Jews (Leviticus Rabbah 31.6).

1. That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (AV) .
2. The true light who gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (NET)

Why numbers 1 & 2 with no punctuation mean the same to me, I'm not certain of. It could be my familiarity reading the text, so I understand the context. (obviously not a way to translate) or if "that cometh" to me is saying [that was the true Light which lighteth every man [that has come] into the world. . Make any sense? I agree with you, the lack of a comma or parenthesis logically must point to number 2. If I were to translate the text in this way:

1. Τό φῶς τό ἀληθεινόν, ποῦ φωτίζη κάθε ἀνθρῶπον, ἔρχετε στοῦ κόσμω.

I'd stop reading and do a double take. However, in this way I'd keep reading,

2. Τό φῶς τό ἀληθεινόν τό ὀποίον φωτίζη κάθε ἀνθρῶπον ἔρχετε στοῦ κόσμω.

I realize the above is modern, but it's one of the ways I learn. I think Louis was a bit off when he said Modern is 70% different, I'd go with 74%.

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Re: John 1:9

Postby rhutchin » September 7th, 2012, 3:01 pm

Dean (and anyone else),

So, grammatically, there is nothing wrong with the construction of the sentence?

I don't know that I am the typical English reader, but I tend to read in a straight line so that I see modifiers immediately following that which they modify. However, in Greek, one has a certain flexibility to arrange the sentence in a somewhat disjointed manner for emphasis or some other purpose.

What tips off the Greek reader to arrange (and understand) this particular sentence in the manner that you (and the translators do) do? Is the Greek reader more aware of context and therefore, looking beyond the grammatical construction of a sentence to get the sense of that which the writer is saying? Could John be assuming a prior basic knowledge of Christ that allows the "knowledgeable" reader to draw a conclusion that those not in the know would miss causing them to misinterpret (or not as easily grasp) that which John is saying?

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Re: John 1:9

Postby Dean_Poulos » September 8th, 2012, 3:51 am

Roger, I apologize I was unclear. In my industry, I have habit of sticking to short and direct replies (lest people drive me nuts). This is not a venue for “assumptions,” or short answers.

Allow me to clarify: When I said I agree with you (I meant grammatically) and continued to comment about parenthesis and commas, the agreement was with respect to what Jason indicated: “ἐρχόμενον is periphrastic with τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν as the subject.”

I was not disagreeing with the grammar, (I’m not even qualified) I only said I seem to see this pattern in John’s writings and cited: “Jn. 12.46 “ἐγὼ φῶς εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἐλήλυθα” “I have come as a light into the world,” which is (I think) a periphrastic participle in the imperfect tense. Perhaps his use of extreme contrasts brings this out, I have no idea.

I rarely post and when I do, I ask questions. I try to read more and listen, up until I can use the Koine to converse without cheating (and driving my family nuts) by sneaking in a few modern words to fill in the gaps. :D

I then went off track when I saw Eeli’s comment seeking a Greek Idiom to match the Hebrew. There were lots of Hellenized Jews then, so perhaps it never made into the bible.

You did say two things I would request you to clarify:

“I don't know that I am the typical English reader, but I tend to read in a straight line so that I see modifiers immediately following that which they modify.”

I could be wrong in my comparison to how you read, but it sounds awfully familiar to how I read Greek.

“However, in Greek, one has a certain flexibility to arrange the sentence in a somewhat disjointed manner for emphasis or some other purpose.”

Why do you believe this? Is there a source you can point to? To keep the post short, I could say: My son became a teacher of the Gospel three different ways and they would mean the same thing. No “disjointing.”

“Is the Greek reader more aware of context and therefore, looking beyond the grammatical construction of a sentence to get the sense of that which the writer is saying?

Me? Definately. However, that comes from a lack of experience.

"Could John be assuming a prior basic knowledge of Christ that allows the "knowledgeable" reader to draw a conclusion that those not in the know would miss causing them to misinterpret (or not as easily grasp) that which John is saying?”

This is why I come here to learn. The million dollar ?.

IMHO, there is no doubt if we yield to pure grammar, the text of the AV will throw most modern English readers off compared to the NET. Oddly, aside from the Greek texts, those are the two English versions I enjoy most.

This question may or may not have been answered, but assuming for a moment the original autographs were found and most or all the variants often spoken of were there. Would we be contesting with the authors (The Author)?

Sorry for now being as clear as I could have been.

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Re: John 1:9

Postby Jason Hare » September 8th, 2012, 10:59 am

Dean_Poulos wrote:I was not disagreeing with the grammar, (I’m not even qualified) I only said I seem to see this pattern in John’s writings and cited: “Jn. 12.46 “ἐγὼ φῶς εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἐλήλυθα” “I have come as a light into the world,” which is (I think) a periphrastic participle in the imperfect tense. Perhaps his use of extreme contrasts brings this out, I have no idea.


Maybe you're meaning something other than periphrastic in this example? (1) It's not imperfect but perfect. (2) There's no participle in the phrase. (3) It's not periphrastic. You've got me stumped.
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