Monday, July 10, 2023

John 1:1: Three Spanish Verbs

Today I've been reading my Biblia de Las Americas (the NASB in Spanish). I love this version. Here's one reason why. Look at what it does in John 1:1. The Greek has the same verb "was" three times. 

But the Spanish uses three different verbs for this one Greek word:

  • existía
  • estaba
  • era 

The first word, existía, is simple enough: "existed." But there's a big difference in Spanish between estaba (from estar) and era (from ser). Spanish has two basic verbs for "to be." They are ser and estar. These verbs are not interchangeable. Ser is used of a permanent state, while estar is used of a temporary condition. 

Estoy cansado = I am tired.

Soy médico = I am a doctor. 

Estar is derived from the Latin word meaning "to stand," and is used to indicate the position of a person or thing. Thus, the Word that existed from the beginning was standing in the presence of THE God (here "the" is referring to the person of the Father) but at the same time was God as to his essence or substance. Amazing. 

Recall that the first step in exegesis is observation. That's where we ask the question, "What do I see in the text?" That's why we do word studies of special terms. A term is more than just a word. A term is a key word that is crucial to our understanding of the passage. Do some investigation, and you'll discover that John uses the Greek verb "to be" very purposefully. It's a term that often unlocks his meaning, as in the famous "I AM" sayings found only in his Gospel. You want to transport yourself into the sense of the passage you're reading, and often a good way to do that is to compare foreign language translations of your text. It doesn't take complete fluency in a language to be able to consult it. Most people are probably already aware of the difference in Spanish between ser and estar. But it's pretty neat to actually see it at work.