John 1:1-5

 

I. Prologue 1:1-18

 

Each of the four Gospels begins with an introduction to Jesus that places Him in the historical setting of His earthly ministry. Matthew connected Him with David and Abraham. Mark associated Him directly with John the Baptist. Luke recorded the predictions of His birth. John, however, declared Him to be the eternal Son of God. Many writers have referred to John's prologue as a theological prologue because this evangelist stressed Jesus' connection with the eternal God.

 

As with many introductions, this one contains several key terms that recur throughout the remainder of the book. These terms include life and light (v. 4), darkness (v. 5), witness (v. 7), true (i.e., genuine or ultimate) and world (v. 9), as well as Son, Father, glory, and truth (v. 14). The Word (as a Christological title, v. 1) and grace (v. 14) are also important theological terms, but they occur only in the prologue.

 

"But supremely, the Prologue summarizes how the 'Word' which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history, tangibility—in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme." 1

 

Some writers have identified a chiastic structure in the prologue. R. Alan Culpepper's is essentially as follows. 2

 

A          The eternal Word with God vv. 1-2

            B          What came through the Word: creation v. 3

                        C          What we have received from the Word: life vv. 4-5

                                    D          John's purpose: to testify vv. 6-8

                                                E          The Incarnation and the world's response vv. 9-10

                                                            F           The Word and His own (Israel) v. 11

                                                                        G          Those who accepted the Word v. 12a

H          He gave them authority to become God's children v. 12b

G'         Those who believed in the Word v. 12c

                                                            F'          The Word and His own (Christians) v. 13

                                                E'         The Incarnation and the church's response v. 14

                                    D'         John's testimony v. 15

                        C'         What we have received from the Word: grace v. 16

            B'         What came through the Word: grace and truth v. 17

A'         The eternal Word from God v. 18

 

Jeff Staley also saw a chiasm in these verses, though his perception of the parts is slightly different from Culpepper's. 3

 

A          The relationship of the Logos to God, creation, and humanity vv. 1-5

            B          The witness of John (negative) vv. 6-8

                        C          The journey of the Light/Logos (negative) vv. 9-11

                                    D          The gift of empowerment (positive) vv. 12-13

                        C'         The journey of the Logos (positive) v. 14

            B'         The witness of John (positive) v. 15

A'         The relationship of the Logos to humankind, re-creation, and God vv. 16-18

 

These structural analyses point out that all that John wrote in this prologue centers on God's gift of eternal life that comes to people through the Word (v. 12). This emphasis on salvation through Jesus continues to be central throughout the Gospel (cf. 20:30-31).

 

A. The preincarnate Word 1:1-5

 

John began his Gospel by locating Jesus before the beginning of His ministry, before His virgin birth, and even before Creation. He identified Jesus as co-existent with God the Father and the Father's agent in providing creation and salvation.

 

1:1                   The Bible identifies many beginnings. The beginning that John spoke of was not really the beginning of something new at a particular time. It was rather the time before anything that has come into existence began. The Bible does not teach a timeless state either before Creation or after the consummation of all things. 4 Time is the way God and we measure events in relationship to one another. Even before God created the universe (Gen. 1:1) there was succession of events. We often refer to this pre-creation time as eternity past. This is the time that John referred to here. At the beginning of this eternity, when there was nothing else, the Word existed.

 

"John is writing about a new beginning, a new creation, and he uses words that recall the first creation. He soon goes on to use other words that are important in Genesis 1, such as 'life' (v. 4), 'light' (v. 4), and 'darkness' (v. 5). Genesis 1 described God's first creation; John's theme is God's new creation. Like the first, the second is not carried out by some subordinate being. It is brought about through the agency of the Logos, the very Word of God." 5

 

Obviously the word "Word" (Gr. logos; Aram. memra, used to describe God in the Targums 6) to which John referred was a title for God. Later in this verse he identified the Word as God. He evidently chose this title because it communicates the fact that the Word was not only God but also the expression of God. A spoken or written word expresses what is in the mind of its speaker or writer. Likewise Jesus, the Word (v. 14), was not only God, but He was the expression of God to humankind. Jesus' life and ministry expressed to humankind what God wanted us to know (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). The word "word" had this metaphorical meaning in Jewish and Greek literature when John wrote his Gospel.

 

"To the Hebrew 'the word of God' was the self-assertion of the divine personality; to the Greek the formula denoted the rational mind that ruled the universe." 7

 

"It has not been proven beyond doubt whether the term logos, as John used it, derives from Jewish or Greek (Hellenistic) backgrounds or from some other source. Nor is it plain what associations John meant to convey by his use of it. Readers are left to work out the precise allusions and significance for themselves. John was working with allusions to the Old Testament, but he was also writing to an audience familiar with Hellenistic (Greek) thought, and certain aspects of his use of logos would occur to them. Both backgrounds are important for understanding this title as John used it in 1:1, 14." 8

 

John adopted this word and used it in personification to express Jesus as the ultimate divine self-revelation (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). In view of Old Testament usage it carries connotations of creation (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9; Ps. 33:6), revelation (Isa. 9:8; Jer. 1:4; Ezek. 33:7; Amos 3:1, 8), and deliverance (Ps. 107:20; Isa. 56:1).

 

John's description of the Word as with God shows that Jesus was in one sense distinct from God. He was the second person of the Trinity who is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of His subsistence. However, John was also careful to note that Jesus was in another sense fully God. He was not less God than the Father or the Spirit in His essence. Thus John made one of the great Trinitarian statements in the Bible in this verse. In His essence Jesus is equal with the Father, but He subsists as a separate person within the Godhead.

 

There is probably no fully adequate illustration of the Trinity in the natural world. Perhaps the egg is one of the best. An egg consists of three parts: shell, yolk, and white. Each part is fully egg yet each has its own identity that distinguishes it from the other parts. The human family is another illustration. Father, mother, and child are all separate entities yet each one is fully a member of its own family. Each has a different first name, but all bear the same family name.

 

Jehovah's Witnesses appeal to this verse to support their doctrine that Jesus was not fully God but the highest created being. They translate it "the Word was a god." Grammatically this is a possible translation since it is legitimate to supply the indefinite article ("a") when no article is present in the Greek text. However, that translation here is definitely incorrect because it reduces Jesus to less than God. Other Scriptures affirm Jesus' full deity (e.g., vv. 2, 18; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; et al.). Here the absence of the indefinite article was deliberate.

 

"As a rule the predicate is without the article, even when the subject uses it [cf. vv. 6, 12, 13, 18, et al.]." 9

 

Jesus was not a god. He is God.

 

"John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous." 10

 

John 1:1 is the first of many "asides" in this Gospel. An aside is a direct statement that tells the reader something. They are never observable events but are interpretive commentary on observable events. This commentary reveals information below the surface of the action.

 

"Some asides function to stage an event by defining the physical context in which it occurs. Other asides function to define or specify something. Still other asides explain discourse, telling why something was said (or was not said, e.g., 7:13, 30). Parallel to these are others that function to explain actions, noting why something happened (or did not happen)." 11

 

1:2                   The Word was not only in the beginning and with God (v. 1). He (v. 14) was also in the beginning with God. This statement clarifies further that Jesus was with God before the creation of the universe. It is a further assertion of Jesus' deity. He did not come into existence. He always existed. Moreover Jesus did not become deity. He always was deity. Verse 2 clarifies the revelation of verse 1 that is so concise and profound (cf. Gen. 1:1-2). 12

 

1:3                   John next explicitly declared what was implicit in the Old Testament use of the word "word." Jesus was God's agent in creating everything that has come into existence (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 3:14). It was the second person of the Trinity who created the universe and all it contains. However, John described the Word as God's agent. The Word did not act independently from the Father. Thus John presented Jesus as under God the Father's authority but over every created thing in authority. Jesus' work of revealing God began with Creation because all creation reveals God (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19-20).

 

John characteristically stated a proposition positively (part "a" of this verse) and then immediately repeated it negatively for emphasis and clarification (part "b" of this verse).

 

1:4                               ". . . we move on from creation in general to the creation of life, the most significant element in creation. Life is one of John's characteristic concepts: he uses the word 36 times, whereas no other New Testament writing has it more than 17 times (Revelation; next come Romans with 14 times and 1 John with 13 times). Thus more than a quarter of all the New Testament references to life occur in this one writing." 13

 

Jesus was the source of life. Therefore He could impart life to the things He created. Every living thing owes its life to the Creator, Jesus. Life for humankind constitutes light. Where there is life there is light, metaphorically speaking, and where there is no light there is darkness. John proceeded to show that Jesus is the source of spiritual life and light as well as physical life and light (cf. 5:26; 6:57; 8:12; 9:5; 10:10; 11:25; 14:6; 17:3; 20:31). Metaphorically God's presence dispels the darkness of ignorance and sin by providing revelation and salvation (cf. Isa. 9:2). Jesus did this in the Incarnation.

 

1:5                   As light shines (present tense for the first time) in the darkness, so Jesus brought the revelation and salvation of God to humanity in its fallen and lost condition. He did this in the Incarnation. As the word of God brought light to the chaos before Creation, so Jesus brought light to fallen mankind when He became a man.

 

Furthermore the light that Jesus brought was superior to the darkness that existed both physically and spiritually. The darkness did not overcome (Gr. katelaben, "lay hold of," cf. 6:17; 8:3-4; 12:35; Mark 9:18) and consume the light, but the light overcame the darkness. John did not view the world as a stage on which two equal and opposing forces battle; He was not a philosophical dualist. He viewed Jesus as superior to the forces of darkness that sought to overcome Him but could not. This gives humankind hope. The forces of light are stronger than the forces of darkness. John was here anticipating the outcome of the story that he would tell, specifically, Calvary. Though darkness continues to prevail, the light can overcome it. 14

 

"The imagery of John, though limited to certain concepts and expressed in a fixed vocabulary, is integrated with the total theme of the Gospel. It expresses the conflict of good with evil, culminating in the incarnation and death of Christ, who brought light into darkness, and, though He suffered death, was not overcome by it." 15

 

Throughout these introductory verses John was clearly hinting at parallels between what Jesus did physically in Creation and what He did spiritually through the Incarnation. These parallels continue through the Gospel, as do the figures of light and darkness. Light represents both revelation and salvation. Likewise darkness stands for ignorance and sin (3:19-20; 8:12; 12:35, 46).

 

 

Footnotes

 1Carson, p. 111.

 2R. Alan Culpepper, "The Pivot of John's Prologue," New Testament Studies 27 (1981):1-31.

 3Jeff Staley, "The Structure of John's Prologue: Its Implications for the Gospel's Narrative Structure," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48:2 (April 1986):241-63.

 4This was a pagan Greek philosophical concept. Origen held it, as do some modern eastern religions and some uninformed Christians, but it is not a biblical teaching.

 5Morris, pp. 64-65.

 6The Targums are Aramaic translations of the Old Testament.

 7Tenney, "John,", p. 28.

 8W. Hall Harris, "A Theology of John's Writings," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 190.

 9A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 767. See also E. C. Colwell, "A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament," Journal of Biblical Literature 52 (1933):12-21.

 10C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, p. 156.

 11Tom Thatcher, "A New Look at Asides in the Fourth Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:604 (October-December 1994):430. Thatcher identified 191 asides and charted them by type on pages 434-39.

 12See David J. MacLeod, "The Eternality and Deity of the Word: John 1:1-2," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:637 (January-March 2003):48-64.

 13Morris, p. 73.

 14See David J. MacLeod, "The Creation of the Universe by the Word: John 1:3-5," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:638 (April-June 2003):187-201.

 15Merrill C. Tenney, "The Imagery of John," Bibliotheca Sacra 121:481 (January-March 1964):21. This article contains discussion of about 20 images that John used.