Friday, April 24, 2009

John 1. 1-14: A conversation

David Moore

In 2001 I was listening to Radio 4 - Thursday morning and Melvin Bragg had his usual bunch of lively experts. This particular conversation was picking it way through the history of humanism in European thought and somehow stumbled across the work of Erasmus, the 17 century Dutch scholar, who began life as a priest before renouncing his belief to become a leading Humanist.

At one point the conversation hovered around Erasmus’ translation of John’s Gospel and in particular his translation of the Greek word logos. People with knowledge of the New Testament will recall the Prologue to John - In the beginning was the word .

However, Erasmus did not translate logos as word but as conversation. The scholars with Melvin Bragg agreed that this was a perfectly acceptable translation. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Not only was this complete news to me, but I had recently retired and had formed a small Arts and Theology project with the name Colloquy .... conversation.

I rang my close friend Clive Scott, who had maintained his New Testament Greek over forty years, and asked him to make a translation of the John 1. 1-14 using the Erasmus translation for logus as the guiding light.

John 1. 1-14
It all arose out of a conversation,
conversation within God, in fact the
conversation was God. So, God started the
discussion, and everything came out of this,
and nothing happened without consultation.

This was the life, life that was the light of men,
shining in the darkness, a darkness which
neither understood nor quenched its creativity.

John, a man sent by God, came to remind
people about the nature of the light so that
they would observe. He was not the subject
under discussion, but the bearer of an
invitation to join in.

The subject of the conversation, the original
light, came into the world, the world that had
arisen out of his willingness to converse. He
fleshed out the words but the world did not
understand. He came to those who knew the
language, but they did not respond. Those
who did became a new creation (his children),
they read the signs and responded.

These children were born out of sharing in
the creative activity of God. They heard the
conversation still going on, here, now, and
took part, discovering a new way of being people.

To be invited to share in a conversation
about the nature of life, was for them, a glorious
opportunity not to be missed.

Clive Scott ©


Logos Commentary A CONVERSATION

These notes were attached to the first copy of the 'Logos as Conversation' text.

John 1. 1-14 The Introduction

I can hear some people saying that this is a paraphrase and not a translation. But I would dispute that. A paraphrase in this context is a 'filling out' of the traditional interpretation (translation) to try and cope with the transition from the Greek of the traditional interpretation into English. But this is not what I have attempted to do here. I have taken the premise that logos is to be understood as 'conversation' and then listened to the Greek in the light of that. It puts a different slant on everything. If the original readers heard 'conversation', what would they then go on to hear? Now put that into English. That is translation.

The first translators into English heard the Church Fathers (and their Greek Philosophy), and put that into English, most translations, if not all, build on that. We value the translation “Logos as Word”, because that dealt with the Jewish/Greek listening. The two translations need to be heard in stereo! I still think that these verses begin and end the introduction, and that everything which follows is the story which unpacks this introduction.

There are lots of things which I have heard in a new way. Using the idea of 'conversation' gives much more of the sense of things 'going on' to those first verses ... activity, harmony not unison, ie life. THIS was the life, this God mobility, this interaction which IS God. Quite a movement away from the Ian Paisley figure who speaks the WORD and it all happens. And so, if it is this mobility, the collaboration, this conversation, which is the life THEN IT IS THAT NATURE OF LIFE WHICH IS REVEALED AND IN WHICH WE CAN SHARE. This, being the introduction, has implication for the whole Gospel story. One would like to go on and translate the whole Gospel with this in mind.

There are a lot of things I have enjoyed discovering in this exercise. There is a wholeness about this passage which is often lost in our translations. The verses usually come out as a series of disconnected statements, but it is a very subtle whole, all linked together by words which carry the reader from one stage to the next. I have tried to capture that.

I liked using 'observe' because it captures the sense of 'see and do', 'perceive and follow', 'have faith and be a disciple', even though it sits rather uncomfortably at the end of the sentence in paragraph 2.

At the end, the use of the cliché 'a glorious opportunity not to be missed' cried out to be dismissed until one asks how else do you express 'grace upon grace' not to be heard as a Reformation theological statement, but as a response of wonder from those who got the message, saw the point, shared the life, grasped it, had faith ie perceived and joined in?

'The nature of life' is also a cliché phrase and you might have your own suggestion. But some other phrase must express the point that it is just that nature, the sort of life on offer, that concerns John. That is the subject of the introduction, and indeed the subject of the whole Gospel. The remarkable thing, the 'grace upon grace' is the astonishing call for us to be co-creators. This is where Introduction ends.

Verse 15. The Gospel now begins!

Thinking about the ways of hearing the word ‘witness’ in verse 15, confirms my hunch about logos as conversation.

If the subject is ‘conversation’ then one hears ‘witness’ not just as a pointer “Gosh, look at that”, but as an inviter, “here it is, share it.” One joins a conversation but not a proclamation. At the he heart of the Gospel there is always an invitation to join in, that is the Good News.

Clive Scott Colloquy ©


Anonymous said...

Just found your note - 10/25/12 - still very relevant and helpful.
God bless - John

Christine said...

Discovered this on 5/3/19 thanks to Jonathan Merritt's "Learning to Speak God from Scratch." Blown away. Will be thinking about this for a long time. Thank you!

Joel said...

eyes to see... ears to hear... thank you for sharing this!