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Jesus is the Gospel (1 John 1:1) - Mondays with Mounce

When I start to write a letter, my emphasis is on clarity. Not so with John. In fact, there are quite a few exegetical difficulties in v 1 that don’t get cleared up right away.

John starts with a series of relative clauses introduced by a neuter pronoun followed by a prepositional phrase:

  • ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς,
  • ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν,
  • ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν,
  • ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν
  • περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς

Then the Greek text sets v 2 off with dashes, followed by the NASB, ESV, CSB, and NRSV. The NIV brings the verb from v 3 back to the end of v 1: “—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”The NLT also brings the verb back to the beginning of the verse (”We proclaim to you”) and forms a new sentence at the end: “He is the Word of life.” The NET also brings the verb back to the beginning of the verse: “This is what we proclaim to you.”

V 3 summarizes v 1 (ὃ ἑωράκαμεν καὶ ἀκηκόαμεν) and we finally get to the verb (ἀπαγγέλλομεν) and the indirect object (ὑμῖν). (I wonder if John is German, putting the verb at the end of a convoluted sentence? Not really.) So the relative clauses in v 1 and v 3 are the direct objects of ἀπαγγέλλομεν.

In English order, it would have read ἀπαγγέλλομεν καὶ ὑμῖν ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς ..., “We announce also to you what was from the beginning.”

So why are the pronouns neuter? Part of the answer is wrapped up in the identify of τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς. λόγου could be the message of Jesus, the Gospel, or it could be Jesus himself, the pre-existent Word (John 1:1).

Despite the fact that λόγου is masculine, the pronouns are neuter, probably following natural gender because they are initially referring to the message of the gospel. But since the message of the λόγου is intimately tied in with the person of Jesus, someone they could hear (ἀκηκόαμεν), see (ἑωράκαμεν, ἐθεασάμεθα), and touch (ἐψηλάφησαν), the neuter ὅ must also include the personal Jesus

The other way to view v 1 is as a sentence fragment that you have to end with a dash.  I suspect John expects us to see v 1 and v 3 as part of the same sentence with v 2 being an interjection.

In first year Greek we tend to teach specific rules, such as the gender of the pronoun is determined by the gender of its antecedent. But grammar can be broken to make a point. Again, I suspect that the pronouns are neuter and not masculine (agreeing with λόγου) so the reader will understand they refer to more than just a message. Jesus is the gospel.


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Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash.

Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar William D. Mounce
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