The Gospel of John is the fourth book of the New Testament. The passage that we will be dealing with from the book of John is chapter one verses one through five. In the outline from the background study it is under the section, “The eternal Word incarnate.” This passage is the prologue, which John uses in order to establish the foundation that he will use to build his presentation of the life of Christ, as it was not portrayed in the synoptic Gospels.
Verses 1-5 will be best understood in light of the entire context of the book. We should remember that the Gospel of John was written to supplement the other Gospels. Although John does not start out his Gospel with the birth of Christ the man, he starts out with Christ in eternity. In this prologue, he mostly deals with the deity of Christ, and His involvement in the creation of the world; however, he does deal somewhat with the authority and power given to Christ empowering him to overcome the “darkness.”
In this paper, we will seek to understand the theological meaning that John presents in verses 1-5. We will seek to relate this meaning to the context in which this passage is found. For example, since it was commonly believed at the time of John’s writing of his Gospel that the “Word” had not yet come to the Jews, how did John deal with this? Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to understand the significance of the writing of John’s Gospel, and the scripture upon which the theology of the Trinity is established. We will do this through a study of the words that John used in this particular message, through a study of the theological meaning of the message, and through interpreting the relevance of the message to the time and circumstances of its writing.
In the beginning. Starting off like Genesis 1:1, John here alludes to the Old Testament and the Jewish idea of God creating the earth through his preexisting wisdom (Clarke). This simple terminology implies so much about the very nature of the Trinity. First of all, the phrase can also be interpreted, “from all eternity” characterizing Christ as preexisting (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). Secondly, “In the beginning” does not mean from the beginning; Christ was already there. However, this does not imply that the man Christ had an existence before the world was created. Christ never ceased to be God; He chose to take upon himself the form of humanity (Life Application Notes). Finally, in the Greek, en archei is definite, however, it does not prove that the Trinity exists; it is simply assumed. Either Christ existed as the creator of the universe, or matter has come out of nothing (Robertson). John later explains that Christ is the creator of everything, and also the source of eternal life (Life Application Notes).
Was the Word. Next, John goes beyond the common Jewish idea that Jesus was created by saying that in the beginning, “Was the Word,” “Existed the logos,” “was the expression,” or “was the reason.” Whatever is meant by this phrase, it is applicable to an infinite Christ. There are many opinions on why this name was given to the Son of God. Some believe this was used to describe Christ because a word is something used to communicate. Christ might be called “the Word” because he is the one who communicated God’s will and commands for our lives to the world (Barnes). In the Hebrew Scriptures, “the Word” was an agent of creation (Psalm 33:6), the source of God’s message by way of the prophets (Hosea 1:2), and the standard of God’s holiness (Psalm 119:11) (Life Application Notes). The term word was also commonly used by the Jews to describe the Messiah. In their writings He is described as “Mimra” which is to say “Word” (Barnes). Since John was describing Christ as “the Word,” the phrase, “the Word was God” was blasphemous to the Jews. To the Greek readers the phrase, “the Word became flesh” was unthinkable. But, John used these phrases to express his new understanding that this “Word” was the Gospel. Also, by calling Jesus “the Word,” John calls Him the incarnate revelation of God’s commands in the scriptures, and therefore declares that only those who accept Jesus honor the law fully (Inter Varsity Press). Since “the Word” can also be described as “the expression,” it is also plausible to consider Christ as the expression of God to the world (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). The Greek culture encouraged the worship of many mythological gods. These gods had supernatural powers that were as important to the Greeks as the genealogies were to the Jews. John shows that Jesus is superior to these gods of mythology (Life Application Notes). Three times in the sentence, John uses the imperfect form of “was” or in the Greek, “eimi.” This conveys the idea that God is without origin, simply a continuous existence, an eternal God (Robertson).
The word “logos” in Greek is also commonly used to describe reason in addition to word. Heraclitus used “logos” to describe the principle which controls the universe, while the Stoics used it to describe the soul of the world (Robertson). The preexistent “Logos,” “became flesh,” so by this phrase John answered both of these heresies at the same time (Robertson).
And the Word was with God. This expresses friendship, intimacy, or co-existence between “the Word” and God. Christ himself explains this relationship clearly in John 17:5, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (Barnes). Christ is co-existent with God the Father. He was and is with God forever.
The word “with,” (pros in the Greek) has the meaning of both being with, and acting toward something. Jesus (“the Word”) was both with God and acting with God before creation (POSB Commentary). Since it can be assumed that God was not “with himself,” then it can also be assumed that Jesus and God are distinct, while at the same time both share the single authority of God. This is the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity (Barnes).
And the Word was God. This could also be interpreted, “God was the Logos,” which is to say there is no subordinate; therefore the eternal Jehovah and Christ are one (Clarke). In the previous phrase John had said that the Word was “with God.” As if some might assume that He was a different and lesser being, here John states that, “the Word was God.” So John thus left no doubt that the one he was referring to was equal with God. First of all, it is clear that the Logos meant Jesus Christ. Next, we see that this is not just a quality of God, but rather a person (the Word became flesh). Another thing that is interesting about this passage is that there is no other variation in any other manuscript; they all say that the Word “was God.” John also did not state that the Word was “a god,” or, “the Word was like God.” John states it plain and clear that Jesus Christ is God.
The Greek clause underlying in this phrase stipulates, according to one of the rules of grammar in the Greek, that “the Word” is the subject, and that “God” is the predicate nominative (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). Another particularity of the Greek is that the article is often used for interpreting an individual’s identity and is often not used in ascribing a quality or a characteristic to the individual (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). In the clause, “the Word was with God,” there is an article before “God” (ton theon), which is to say “God the Father.” In the other clause, there is no article before “God.” Although this distinction is a very small one, it seems that John was inspired to write it and intended for it to be that way. In the earlier clause, John indicates that the Word was with God, the Father. In this clause, John states that the Word was the deity. For this reason, some translators have attempted to bring out these small, but important distinctions by writing the last clause to say, “and what God was the Word was,” (NEB) or, “and He was the same as God” (TEV) (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). One other interesting observation is that the phrase found here, “kai theos en ho logos,” in the Greek, can only be said as, “the Word was God,” it cannot be turned around to say, “God was the Word;” thus showing an even greater distinction between the two parts (Robertson). Jehovah’s Witnesses translate this clause to say, “The Word was a god.” This is incorrect and logically is polytheism, or believing in more than one god. Others have translated it “the Word was divine,” but this could lead to a faulty view of Christ. If this verse is correctly understood, it helps make clear the doctrine of the Trinity. The “Word” is eternal; the “Word” is in relationship to God the Father, and the “Word” is God (Bible Knowledge Commentary). If there is the “Word” who is God, and there is no way that there can be two supreme creators of the universe, then God must have different parts, God the Father, God the Son (“the Word”), and God the Holy Spirit.
The same was in the beginning with God. “The same,” found here, is to say, “This one,” as in the Logos spoken of in John 1:1. This is merely repeated for clarity. It is characteristic of John’s literary style (Robertson). John joins together two of the ideas that he has already stated earlier, “the Word was in the beginning,” and, “the Word was God,” so therefore, “the Word was in the beginning with God.” If the “Word” was in the beginning with God, then there is logically only one way that this can be interpreted. If the “Word” was in the beginning with God, then God did not create the “Word”, but rather the “Word” is God.
All things were made by Him. Which is to say, all things were made by the “Logos” (Clarke). In Genesis 1:1, God created all things. In this verse, it is said that Christ created all things. The same Holy Spirit spoke to Moses as spoke to John, so once again we can assume that God the Father and Christ are one (Clarke). In interpreting “all things,” one cannot limit it to any part of the universe, it is to say, everything that exists was made by him (Barnes). “Were made” is from the original Greek word for “to be.” If sticking only to this, you must interpret the passage to say, “All things were by him.” However, in this passage there is an expressed idea of creation, so therefore, “were by him” becomes “were made by him (Barnes).
“All things” means every detail of creation, not creation as a whole, but every single detail. Everything, whether material, spiritual, angelic or human has come into being through Christ (POSB Commentary). In the Greek, “ta panta,” meaning, “all the things,” can also be found in 1Corinthians 8:6. “Egeneto,” or “were made,” covers the creative activity, looking at it as one event in contrast with “existence” which is continuous (Robertson). All things were made by Him, and not as an instrument. This story of God’s complete creation of “all things” shows the qualification of Christ for the work of our redemption and salvation (Matthew Henry). I believe that God did not use Christ as an instrument in order to bring about the creation of the universe; I believe that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are distinct, but yet they are three-in-one. They were all present before the foundations of the world and they will be present for eternity.
Without Him was not anything made that was made. This can be interpreted, “without the exertion of His power.” This is a strong statement designed to confirm beyond the shadow of a doubt that what John has just said is truth (Barnes). “Was not anything made,” once again states that not one single thing, no matter how small or miniscule was not made by Him (Barnes).
In Him was life and the life was the light of men. Many people connect this with the preceding verse, since all things were made by him, then life was made by him. But, the life in this verse is the light of men (Adam Clarke’s Commentary). That is not to say that the life is literally light. I believe that John is trying to express everlasting life in an understandable way. This life becomes the light to guide all who would believe into Heaven. The normal usage for the Greek word “zoe” was to mean, “life in general.” But John, took the word and used its meaning to designate the eternal, divine life given to the believers (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). Whatever life is and all that life is, it is all in Jesus Christ. The very thing that is distinctive about life is that it is eternal. It lasts forever and it will eventually exalt the believer to the highest life in eternity with Christ (POSB Commentary). The power that creates and sustains life in the universe is Logos (Robertson). Life is man’s most important asset. To lose life is tragic. John affirmed that in the sense that life is in Christ. Man’s spiritual and physical life comes from Him. To be separate from Christ is to be dead whether spiritually or physically (Bible Knowledge Commentary).
And the light shines in the darkness. The darkness here is sometimes interpreted as the heathen world, the Jewish people, or the fallen spirit of man (Adam Clarke’s Commentary). It can also be interpreted to say that the darkness denotes ignorance, guilt, or misery (Barnes). When it is said that the light shines in the darkness, it is to saying that Christ came to teach an ignorant and wicked world (Barnes). It is also said that light reveals, strips away, makes chaos disappear, and guides. It shows the way, the truth, and the life (POSB Commentary). I believe that this darkness is an evident allusion to the darkness brought about by sin. The “Word,” the only real moral light, keeps on shining both throughout eternity, and as the incarnate God-man.
And the darkness comprehended it not. The Greek word “katelaben” in this context means that the darkness did not lay hold of, grasp, apprehend, or comprehend. It could also mean to overcome or overpower (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). The darkness did not take the light in, men did not receive the light. However, neither was the light overpowered or conquered by the darkness (New Commentary on the Whole Bible). Adam Clarke stated, “Even in the midst of that darkness of ignorance and idolatry which overspread the world, this light of Divine wisdom was not totally eclipsed: the Jewish nation was a lamp perpetually shining to the surrounding nations; and many bright luminaries, among the heathen were never wanting in just and worthy notions of the attributes and providence of God’s wisdom; which enabled them to shine in some degree, though but as lights in a dark place.”
The great mass of men, sunk in sin, will not receive his teachings, and be enlightened and saved by Him. Sin always blinds the mind to the beauty and excellence of the character of the Lord Jesus. It indisposes the mind to receive his instructions, just as “darkness” has no affinity for “light;” and if the one exists, the other must be replaced (Barnes). Darkness does not understand the light, it does not overcome the light, and it does not extinguish the light (POSB Commentary).
This brings us to the purpose of this paper, which was to discover the theological meaning of John 1:1-5, the eternal Word incarnate. In this paper, we have discussed and have drawn conclusions on the theological meanings John presented here in the prologue of his Gospel. We have also done an in depth word study into the original Greek texts, as well as discussing the relevance of the text to its context. Very simply stated, the theological meaning of John 1:1-5 is that Jesus Christ has been from eternity, He is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He is, was, and ever will be. He alone is the one and only way to receive eternal life and live forever with God.
1)Bible Knowledge Commentary; Thompson Bible Study Library CD-ROM 1997
2)Bible Background Commentary; Thompson Bible Study Library CD-ROM 1997
3)NAB Commentary; Thompson Bible Study Library CD-ROM 1997
4)Matthew Henry’s Concise Biblical Commentary; Thompson Bible Study Library CD-ROM 1997
5)Life Application Notes; Thompson Bible Study Library CD-ROM 1997
6)Teacher’s Commentary; Thompson Bible Study Library CD-ROM 1997
7)NASB Greek and Hebrew Dictionary; QuickVerse 6.0 CD-ROM. Parsons Technology 1999
8)Robertson’s Word Pictures; QuickVerse 6.0 CD-ROM. Parsons Technology 1999
9)POSB Commentary; QuickVerse 6.0 CD-ROM. Parsons Technology 1999
10)New Commentary on the Whole Bible POSB Commentary; QuickVerse 6.0
CD-ROM. Parsons Technology 1999
11)Inter Varsity Press Bible Background Commentary POSB Commentary; QuickVerse 6.0 CD-ROM. Parsons Technology 1999
12)Barnes Notes on the New Testament POSB Commentary; QuickVerse 6.0
CD-ROM. Parsons Technology 1999
13)Adam Clarke’s Commentary POSB Commentary; QuickVerse 6.0 CD-ROM. Parsons Technology 1999