Tag Archives: Book of John

“By” or “Through”: That’s the Question (An Examination of John 1:3)

Introduction

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.”

For example:

  • 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.

Conclusion

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 😉 

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Shunning Green Pastures

Study Where You Can

rotundaLast night I was sitting in the rotunda of our county courthouse. No, I was not in trouble – this time. I was just there waiting on my daughter as she was practicing with a group of other kids for upcoming mock trial competition. (If you don’t know what that is, it’s a bunch of high school students from different schools who compete against each other in “mock” trials in court).

Anyway, because her practices usually take at least a couple of hours, I always take something to study. I mean, if I’m going to have to be there, I might as well make use of my time, right? So, this time I took with me my Bible and volume one of a series of commentaries on the book of John by the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice. You see, I’m am beginning a sermon series through the book of John this next Sunday.

So, outside in the rotunda, where I actually found a leather chair in a relatively quite spot, I read the following passage from Dr. Boice’s book. Here’s a little teaser for ya’ – I had to stand up after reading it and raise my hands, with tears in my eyes, and say aloud, “Hallelujah!”

Did you know that a sheep will not eat or drink when it is lying down? Most people have never heard this. But it is a fact, and it gives special meaning to the phrase, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” If a sheep is lying down, even in the greenest of pastures and even with the most tender morsel of grass within an inch of its nose, the sheep will not eat the grass. Instead, if it is hungry, it will scramble to its feet, bend over, and then eat the morsel that was much easier to reach before. Thus, when the psalm tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Shepherd, makes us to lie down in green pastures, it means that he is able to satisfiy us so completely that we cannot possibly yearn for anything more. – James Montgomery Boice. The Gospel of John, Volume 1: The Coming of the Light, p.41.

What did you think about that?

Greener Pastures?

So, what got me so excited there in the rotunda of the county courthouse? Reading a truth that had never crossed my mind before: Jesus wants to make me not even care about green pastures!

That’s right! When Jesus satisfies our souls, nothing else can compare, not even the best offers of the world; more prestigious position; the more attractive temptation; etc.

When we are totally satisfied with Jesus, He can lead us to the greenest pastures and have us so fulfilled in Him that we can lay down and never take a bite! For that matter, when our souls are completely nourished with Him, the desire to seek greener pastures doesn’t even cross our minds; it’s not even appealing!

Oh, hallelujah, my friends! Satisfy your hunger with the Bread of Life; quench your deepest thirst with the Water of Life. Find your satisfaction in the abundant life of Christ and greener pastures won’t even be appetizing.

With Jesus satisfies your soul, you can be content in whatever field you’re led.

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Cacophonous Flabbergasts

Defining the Title

If you don’t know what I mean by  “Cacophonous Flabbergasts,” don’t worry; I’ll explain it for you.

You wake up in the morning, turn on the radio and/or television, and check your email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. If you have time, you read a quick devotion and say a 30-second prayer of thanks for a new day.

As you eat breakfast, if you don’t distract yourself with meaningless, mind-numbing popular music, you turn on CNN, FOX, or some other network and hear nothing but depressing, irritating, and ultimately out-of-your-control news and propaganda (unless you watch Al Jazeera – nothing but objective truth). You may even learn a new recipe.

On the way to and from work you get bombarded by advertising created to snag your attention and your money. During breaks, and then later at home, even while doing other things, even while eating, you subject yourself to social media: cat videos; news stories; gossip; pictures of nude celebrities; images of ISIS victims; and things others have, but you want. When bedtime comes you’re ready for sleep, except one more game on the iPad must be played…then another…then answer an instant message…

Cacophonous flabbergasts: Incessantly loud noises and distractions made up of circumstances and situations – some controllable, some not – meant to sap our strength and weaken us, both physically and spiritually; the overwhelming, unending waves of life that eventually knock us off our feet and drown us.

The Result

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. If it’s not terrorism, it’s a phone call. If it’s not the stock market in trouble, it’s a friend with marital problems. If it’s not too many things on the schedule, it’s not enough money to pay the bills. If it’s not another unexpected illness that insurance won’t cover, it’s the water being turned off as you’re washing your hair, late to an interview.

The waves of life have a way of taking our eyes off Jesus, don’t they?

When we take our eyes off of Jesus; when we get distracted by all the upheaval, the noise, the shifting surface which continually gives way beneath our feet; there’s no peace, only fear, which leads to doubt, anger, depression, etc.

Much like Peter, whether intentionally or not, we allow the cacophonous flabbergasts to drown out His voice and divert our attention, and we become afraid

But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid… – Matthew 14:30

Change Your Focus

rough-seasI don’t know about you, but I’ve let a lot of what is going on in the world get me down. I’ve let the bills make me worry. I’ve let a lot of bad stuff take my focus of Christ. I’ve been flabbergasted by the cacophony of trials and tribulations.

What about you?

Maybe we should do as Peter did when he began to sink. Maybe we should quit looking at the waves and turn our focus back on Christ. Maybe we should cry out, “Lord, save me!”

And immediately Jesus stretched forth [his] hand, and caught him… – Matthew 14:31

He did, and He will.

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