"Overcome" vs "comprehend" in John 1:5

Posted by in Facebook's Pentecostal Theology Group View the Original Post

John 1:5 reads in the ESV:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I recently heard the KJV quoted and was struck by the difference:

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

In the same vein as the ESV, other translations offer overpowered, extinguished, quenched, defeated. More in line with the KJV, other choices include understood and perceived.

The Greek for reference (NA28):

καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.

BDAG provides options for the meaning of καταλαμβάνω carrying both senses (abbreviations expanded):

1. to make something one’s own, win, attain…
2b. seize with hostile intent, overtake, come upon…
4a. learn about something through process of inquiry…

The lexicon mentions this verse in all three of the entries above, but all I could get out of that without having the referenced works at hand is that it seems to be an open question. How should we decide which of these the author intended?

8 Comments

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Angel Ruiz

    Well a good way is finding a translation in a language that uses basic Greek grammar rules for example Latin has masculine, feminine, and nurtured words…

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Varnel Watson

    Actually the difference of the way genders are used in Greek vs Latin is as great as it can be. How could you get to the meaning the way you describe especially when the same word in Greek could be feminine and in Latin masculine and Hebrew neuter?

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Angel Ruiz

    Most translation are not word by word… They are Thought by thought or phrase by phrase.

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Varnel Watson

    Says who? And BTW the dynamic equivalent theory actually proves your statement above wrong 🙂

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Angel Ruiz

    dynamic equivalence tends to employ a more natural rendering but with less literal accuracy.

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Angel Ruiz

    formal equivalence tends to emphasize fidelity to the lexical details and grammatical structure of the original language…

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Angel Ruiz

    Is KJV formal or dynamic?

  • Reply June 16, 2017

    Varnel Watson

    Which one do you think it is? And which KJV are you asking about exactly – b/c the original 1611 is really hard to tell depending if you believe it was translated from Greek or from Latin 🙂 BTW per OP the issue with “Overcome” vs “comprehend” in John 1:5 has nothing to do with gender or translation methodology… #justsayin

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