Tuesday morning, after a cup of coffee with some great, godly men in our community, I was standing out in the parking lot of a local restaurant discussing the morning’s plans. It was during this short conversation that the subject matter briefly switched to that of Bible translations.
There we were, standing by the cab of a pickup truck when one of these men – a great friend to our family and church – said something akin to the following:
“The reason I will only use the King James Bible can be illustrated by the change in one word, and that word is found in the first chapter of John. There, the King James Version says, ‘all things were made by Jesus,’ but every other version – every single one – changes that word ‘by’ to ‘through.’ I have a problem with that. As I see it, there’s a big difference between ‘by’ and ‘through.’ Either everything was made by Jesus, or it wasn’t.” (Again, this was not an exact quote, but close.)
Therefore, it might take more than the average 500-word blog post to unpack, but I want to address this apparent conflict between “by” and “through” as found in John 1:3.
Doing the Research
You know, the last thing one should do when confronted with an unknown is say to the one making the assertion, “Nuh uh!” Right after my friend said what he did about every other translation of the Bible changing “by” to “through,” I pulled out my iPhone and pulled up BlueLetterBible.com.
Seeing what I was doing, the gentleman goaded me a little and said with a slight chuckle, “You gotta look that one up, don’t ya?” I grinned as I nodded…the subject changed back to hardware for about 30 seconds…then we went our separate ways.
But I did look it up. It wasn’t difficult to do, either. The Bible-study tools we have access to in an instant, even on our smartphones, are literally mind-blowing. At no other time in history have we had so much knowledge available so quickly right in the palms of our hands. Therefore, it didn’t take more than a few seconds to learn that my friend’s assertions were spot on… The KJV was actually the only one to render John 1:3 with a “by,” not a “through.”
- John 1:3 (KJV) – All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
- (NKJV) – All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
- (NIV) – Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
- (ESV) – All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
- (CSB) – All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.
Yes, I did my research, and what I found was that my friend’s assertion was true: every other translation of the Bible changed the word “by” to “through.” However, my research wasn’t complete; it was time to consult the original languages.
It’s All Greek
Like I said above, the study tools we have these days are amazing, and there’s really no good excuse for any Bible student to claim ignorance. For example, if all one had was access to one online tool such as BlueLetterBible.com, then what used to take hours of study could be done in mere moments. Then if you add to that all the other free websites available, including what’s available from online libraries, and then throw in some relatively inexpensive (but voluminous) programs like Logos, oh… my… goodness! It’s hard to comprehend how blessed we are!
So, when it became obvious that “by” had been replaced by “through,” I decided to take the next logical step and look up the source of the translations in question: the original Greek word, διά (dē-ä’).
It may sound unbelievable to you, but there are still people out there who think Jesus spoke Elizabethan English. However, the Bible was not originally written in the language of Shakespeare. In actuality, John 1:3 was written in Greek, so “by” and “through” are only translations of the Greek word διά (Strong’s G1223).
The next question should then be: “What does dia mean?”
Grab Your Concordance
Well, every Bible student should have a Strong’s Concordance in his personal library, even if his library only consisted of a Bible and one other book. Therefore, let’s take a look at Strong’s and see what we find.
G1223: διά diá, dee-ah’; a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act; through (in very wide applications, local, causal, or occasional):—after, always, among, at, to avoid, because of (that), briefly, by, for (cause) … fore, from, in, by occasion of, of, by reason of, for sake, that, thereby, therefore, × though, through(-out), to, wherefore, with (-in).
According to Strong’s Concordance, dia is a word that denotes “the channel of an act; through…” Therefore, is it really an act of theological sabotage to translate John 1:3 with through instead of by?
Is it possible that Jesus was the One through whom God the Father made all things?
You see, it is not heresy to say that the Father made all that is through Jesus, the Word of God. No, it is actually MORE theologically sound and true to Jesus’ own words to say that He was the agency or “channel” of creation, rather than the one acting unilaterally in creation. Why do I say this? Consider the actual words of Jesus as recorded by John…
- John 4:34 (KJV) – Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
- John 5:19 (KJV) – Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
- John 6:38 (KJV) – For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
If Jesus had acted alone and created all things by Himself, then His own words would expose a critical inconsistency. The fact seems to be that even though Jesus was and is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, He still had to act in accordance with the will of the Father, and therefore saying “all things were created through Him” is more theologically consistent with the nature of the Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead.
A Dose of Commentary
I learned a long time ago that commentaries can be very useful if used properly; I go to them after I have already read the Scripture and done all the exegesis I can do with the study tools at hand. Therefore, it was only after I did the above study that I consulted several scholarly commentaries. For the benefit of this discussion and for your edification, allow me to share the following directly from the sources.
The New American Commentary: John 1-11
The preposition dia (“through”), used in connection with creation here, should not be taken to mean that the Logos is essentially inferior to God, as the Arians argued. But the early Christians, in attempting to discuss simultaneously the work of both the Father and the Son in creation, sometimes tried to hold both together through the use of two prepositions. The Father’s activity was linked with the preposition ek, which carries the sense of “origin,” and the Son’s activity was linked with the preposition dia, which carries the sense of “mediation” (e.g., the early Christian creedal statement in 1 Cor 8:6; also see Heb 1:2 for the use of dia).
The Pulpit Commentary: St. John (Vol. 1)
In asserting that the Logos is he or that through whom all things were made, the writer does not lower the dignity of the Logos by regarding him merely as the οργανον of the Father, because the same preposition is used of the relation of the Father to the world or to his servants (Rom. 11:36; Gal. 1:1; Heb. 2:10). Elsewhere St. Paul powerfully affirms the same application of διά (1 Cor. 8:6) to Christ’s part in the Creation, reserving for the One God, the Father, the preposition ἐκ. From God and by or through God are all things, still “all things” derive their existence “through” the activity, the will, the thought, of the Logos.
Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent)
By Him (διʼ αὐτοῦ). Lit., through him. The preposition dia is generally used to denote the working of God through some secondary agency, as διὰ τοῦ προφήτου, through the prophet (Matt. 1:22, on which see note).* It is the preposition by which the relation of Christ to creation is usually expressed (see 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), though it is occasionally used of the Father (Heb. 2:10; Rom. 11:36, and Gal. 1:1, where it is used of both). Hence, as Godet remarks, it “does not lower the Word to the rank of a simple instrument,” but merely implies a different relation to creation on the part of the Father and the Son.
Again, it would seem to me that it is more theologically sound to translate John 1:3 the way all the other translations do it as opposed to the KJV.
Right or Wrong?
But after all that has been said, was the King James Version’s translators wrong in their use of the word by instead of through? Actually, no.
You see, the whole reason we have newer translations of the Bible is because the English language changes over time. Some words have different meanings today than they used to, and that is why we rarely speak of wearing our “gay clothing” to church, or “fetch[ing] a compass” as we travel (Num. 34:5).
At the time the KJV translators did their work, the meaning of “by” was probably more nuanced than today and would have been understood by the reader of the day to have the same depth of meaning as “through.” However, for the modern reader, by implies more of a literal meaning. For example, if my daughter made a wooden elephant figurine, and if you asked who made it, I could answer, “It was made BY Haley.” If we applied the same meaning to the “by” in John 1:3, then we would literally be on the road to heresy, for Jesus did not act unilaterally (own His own), but by the will of the Father (John 5:19).
So, by may have been the best word for the verse in the 17th-19th centuries, but through better conveys the Truth to those in the 21st.
Without a doubt, the translators of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible were men of superior capability. I dare say that finding modern scholars and intellects with similar credentials would be exceedingly difficult. Therefore, because they did such a great work, it would be wise to consider their words when debating the heart of this discussion.
Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place … Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue (the modern, common way of speaking), the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with…”
“For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free…?”
– from: “The Translators to the Reader,” a prefix attached to the original 1611 edition.
It really boils down to this: What does the Bible really say? Sometimes we have to set aside our preconceived notions in order to honestly exegete Scripture. The last thing we want to do is let a literary bias lend support to a faulty theology, even if our intentions are noble.
Ultimately, though, Jesus is the Door “through” whom we must enter; there is no other Way to the Father. If a translation can’t make that clear, then we have a problem.
So, let me say “Thanks” to my friend. Without his comment, I’d never walked down this rabbit trail 😉