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Robert Keay's comments

Regarding A. N. Jannaris and John 1:1


Hello Robert,

You mentioned that Stafford had cited A.N. Jannaris of St Andrews in support of translating John 1:1 "a god." I would like to clarify Jannaris' position on John 1:1 because it does not, in fact, support the Watchtower teaching on John 1:1.

First, let me mention some personal information. Jannaris did teach here at the University from 1897 to 1903. He was lecturer in Post-Classical and Modern Greek. He himself was Greek, hailing from Crete. He was one of the finest Greek scholars of that day. He had a remarkable grasp of Greek and was also quite creative in his thought. His greatest contribution to scholarship was the massive "Historical Greek Grammar" published in 1897. As far as I know no one else has even attempted what Jannaris was doing in that work--tracing the development and changes in Greek grammar from ancient times to the present, showing primarily the continuity between ancient and modern Greek. There is a great need for someone to do that today, especially since we have many more ancient documents that were not available to Jannaris. But the task seems beyond human ability! It is amazing that Jannaris even conceived the plan--and he accomplished it in only 5 years! Sadly, he was forced to return to his homeland due to political machinations. He was imprisoned [at least 2x] for speaking out against the corrupt government. I don't know what became of him. The Principal [i.e., President] of the University of St Andrews spoke in his behalf in an attempt to have him released from prison, but it was to no avail. I do not know what happened to him--if he was martyred or not.

Now, in regard to the article mentioned ["St John's Gospel and the Logos" in ZNW 2 (1901) 13-25], I would like to clarify what Jannaris said. It is certainly true that he translated John 1:1 "a god" in this article, but, interestingly enough, this does not support the Watchtower translation. This article well reveals the creative juices of Jannaris. The purpose of the article is to discover how the title "Logos" came to be applied to Jesus. Naturally he goes back to John's Gospel, chapter 1. He argues that John could not have used the word "logos" to refer to Jesus in chapter 1, because the word had never been used in a personal sense. In John 1:1 the "word" must refer back to Genesis 1, the "word" that God spoke to create the world [i.e., "let their be light", etc.]. It is, quite literally, that "utterance" that John had in mind when he wrote. Since this "word" was creative, it can be termed "a god." Let me quote Jannaris on this point. "The term logos refers then to that well known utterance or Spruch with which the creation of the world began; that well known oracular utterance which God made unto (pros) Himself and which having been instrumental (dia autou) in the creation, is naturally represented as a creative power, a creator, that is a god--god and creator being two synonymous terms" (p.21). Very clearly, then, for Jannaris it is not Jesus who is "a god" but the literal spoken utterance of God in Genesis 1 that is "a god" because of the creative power of that utterance. What Jannaris says about John 1:14 ["the word became flesh and dwelt among us"] is very important, for again he does not think this "word" refers to Jesus, nor does it refer back to the "word" mentioned back in 1:1. Rather, he thinks that the "word" of 1:14 refers back to "authority" or "power" in verse 12. Further, the translation should be "was embodied in us" rather than "dwelt among us." Let me quote Jannaris again. "Grammatically considered, then, the logos here [1:14] cannot refer to the very first line of the prologue, already lost sight of, but to the immediately preceding statement, to the 'authority' or 'power' just spoken of: 'and the said word of authority' [or] 'and the empowering word', 'the mandate'--became flesh and lodged in us: an interpretation which becomes the more natural and intelligible, as the terms 'authority, (command[ment]) or mandate, and the word (exousia, entole, logos)', are used synonymously in the New Testament" (pp.19-20). Having argued that Jesus was not called the logos in John, Jannaris moves on to argue that it was Justin Martyr who first gave the title logos to Jesus. One might well disagree with Jannaris' interpretation, but one should not misunderstand or misrepresent his position and claim that the translation "a god" supports in any way the arian view of Jesus. It simply does not. Only if Jannaris believed that the "word" referred to Jesus would the "a god" translation be significant for the Watchtower and Stafford. But since he did not believe that, he is certainly justified [grammatically] in translating it as "a god."

That should be sufficient to show that Jannaris' translation cannot be used in support of the Watchtower translation. It is important to remember that the argument over the proper translation of John 1:1 does not concern grammar [grammatically speaking "a god" is certainly permissible--and so Jannaris' translation is just fine], but concerns sociolinguistics, that is, the meaning of the words in their social setting. In such a setting, the "word", if understood in personal terms [i.e., of Jesus], would not have been understood as "a god." But that is exactly what the argument is about. So we are back at square one. Or rather, Stafford is back at square one, for he cannot cite Jannaris as support.

Oh, one more thing. Jannaris' interpretation of the logos in John 1 didn't convince anyone (that I know of anyway). It remained a peculiar idea of one creative mind. It is important to realize that scholars have their own unique and peculiar ideas just like everyone else. This should prevent people from latching on to any scholar, as if s/he had all the answers. It should also prevent people from deriving support for their own position by the simple citation of a scholar. Undoubtedly even the most bizarre positions can be supported by statements of some scholar [e.g., those who deny the holocaust certainly quote and cite historian/scholars in support of their dubious postion].

Well, I hope this helps.