John Shore Christian Blog and Commentary

John 1:17: Where "Truth" Depends on Your Translation (!)

Today we're considering John 1: 17, which reads (in the NIV translation): "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Seems simple enough, right? Law comes from men; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ.

Except, wait. Stop. Back up.

I understand the part about grace having come through Jesus Christ. No problem; beautiful. But then John goes a lot further than that, doesn't he? He actually says that before God incarnated himself as Jesus Christ, truth itself didn't exist.

Unless I'm missing something here (and I'm sure I am) John is here saying that when his father was a child, and through all of time before then, there was no such thing as truth.

I didn't start this commentary so that I could e-preach about John---so that I could in essence tell people what John meant by what he wrote. There are enough people in the world telling other people what the Bible means. I started it as a means by which my readers and I together could explore, wonder at, and ponder the incomparable spiritual and aesthetic genius of John.

Now would be one of the pondering times. Because how it could be that before Christ no one on earth had any concept of the truth? But how else are we to read "truth came through Jesus Christ."? I've now read every commentary on John 1:17 in my personal library or that I could find on-line---and, frankly, no one seems to know how to read it. Virtually everything I read just bunny-hopped right over the word "truth" here. "Grace" everyone was great with; "truth" they all ignored.

So then I plugged John 1:17 into each of the 20 English-language translations of the Bible available at And guess what I found? At John 1:17 all of the Bibles use the word "truth"---except for the three that don't.

The Message says, "This endless knowing and understanding."

The New Living Translation reads, "God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ."

Finally, the Worldwide English Bible translates John 1:17 as, "Moses gave the law, but Jesus Christ gave this loving kindness and truth." (Italics mine.)

So here we see three English translations of the Bible that do not say what the other 17 do.

Proof yet again that Christianity isn't anywhere near as simple as we're sometimes inclined to believe it is.

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You can read all of my posts thus far on The Book of John by going here, and then reading up from the bottom.

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