ην το φως το αληθινον ο φωτιζει      παντα ανθρωπον ερχομενον εις τον κοσμον

was the true light         to enlighten    all men             coming         into the world


erat lux vera quae inluminat omnem hominem venientem in mundum

DRB: That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world[1]


English Translations with variant readings:

NEB: The real light which enlightens every man was even then coming into the world. [Or: The light was in being, light absolute, enlightening every man born unto the world.]

Darby: The true light was that which, coming into the world, lightens every man.

AMP: There it was—the true Light [was then] coming into the world [the genuine, perfect, steadfast Light] that illumines every person.

CJB: This was the true light, which gives light to everyone entering the world.

CEV: The true light that shines on everyone was coming into the world.

GW: The real light, which shines on everyone, was coming into the world.

GN: This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on everyone.

HCSB: The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

ISV: This was the true light that enlightens every person by his coming into the world.

NET: The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

NLT: The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

Alfred Plummer: There was the true Light, which lighteth every man, by coming into the world


Comments and Commentaries:

The major question we see in this verse is the last phrase: “coming into the world.” Is that phrase referring to the light or the all people that enter the world. Because of the placing of the phrase in the Greek text and the agreement with the vulgate, I’ve chosen to see it as all people who are entering the world.

On the other hand, the context of the light coming to his own and coming into the world leads many translators to see it the opposite way.

But that expression is always plural; the construction here is singular. It is best to take ‘coming into the world’ as a neuter form attached to ‘light’, adopting the translation of niv: The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. The most convincing support for this rendering is the fact that ‘coming into the world’ or being sent into the world is in this Gospel repeatedly predicated of him who is the Word. Moreover the peculiar Greek syntax this translation presupposes is a common feature of John’s style (cf. 1:28; 2:6; 3:23; 10:40; 11:1; 13:23; 18:18, 25).15 What this means is that in this verse it is the Word, the light, that is coming into the world, in some act distinct from creation. If incarnation is not spelled out as forcefully as in v. 14, it is the same special visitation that is in view. Few could read the Fourth Gospel for the second time without recognizing that the coming of the Word into the world, described in the Prologue, is nothing other than the sending of the Son into the world, described in the rest of the book.[2]

The focus on the light being the “true” light is important because according to the OT is was common to see the law as the light. David says, “your laws are lamps to my feet and lights to my path.” But John’s focus on Jesus being the “true” light emphasizes a new understanding.

The Greek word for “enlighten” may mean to give knowledge or understanding as when a light bulb goes on above our heads in the cartoons. This might support the idea of translating that the darkness didn’t “understand or comprehend” the light when it came into the world.

The Handbook for translators has a pretty good argument for agreeing with those translations that say it’s the “light” that’s coming into the world not “all men.” It says, “Although both renderings are grammatically possible, at least two reasons favor this interpretation: (1) In the context the focus is on light, and not on mankind. (2) John elsewhere speaks of Jesus as “coming into the world” (6:14; 9:39; 11:27; 16:28), and in 12:46 Jesus says “I have come into the world as light”; but nowhere in John’s Gospel are men spoken of as “coming into the world.”[3]

CLV (Chuck Larsen Version):The light was the true light that enlightens all people who will be coming into the world.

Or with Alford, “There was the true Light, which enlightens every man, by coming into the world.”

[1] The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), Jn 1:9.

niv New International Version.

15 For another possibility, cf. Borgen, Logos, p. 103.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 121–122.

[3] Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on the Gospel of John, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), 16.