This is without a doubt one of the highest examples of Christology in the Bible. A variety of theories have been put forth about the origin of this passage. It might have been a hymn written before John that John adapted, or a Gnostic poem, or John might have composed it himself. But it is definitely very poetic.
There are a number of words used here that only have their meanings in this passage, like “tabernacled,” “grace,” “fullness” and “word” (Borchert 101). This indicates a separate writer or a separate time frame from the rest of the Gospel of John. However, wherever it comes from, there is come great theology and some deep thinking behind this passage.
Verse 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (NIV)
- In the Greek there is no article with “beginning.”
- This is not about a particular beginning, like the beginning of the world, or even of time.
- This is a general beginning, that whatever beginning you think about, the word was there.
- ”Word” here is “logos,” which is the way an inward thought it expressed, a statement (Liddell 476).
- Today, “word of God” is associated with the Bible, but here it is Jesus that is the word of God. By associating Jesus with “logos,” John is making the statement that Jesus is the expression of what God is and what God wants.
- Words were thought to carry power, by speaking a word it became real in a sense, took on a life all its' own.
- The “logos” was used in Greek thought as well, dealing with the underlying order that binds the universe, but that thinking is revised and redeemed here
- The last use of “God” in this passage is different than the others, it is missing an article.
- Some branches of Christianity translate this as “a God”, but that is inaccurate.
- The Jews were monotheistic, the idea that there was more than one God at this time was completely foreign.
- So to John, “God” is a monadic noun, there is only one. And with something there is only one of, there is no need for an article because it is already definite.
- What this is likely theologically representing is that with the article, John is focusing on the person of God. The word was in the presence of God.
- Without the article, it is referring to the character of God, the essence of “godness.” Jesus is part of the essence God. This is keeping them one and yet does not completely equate them.
- Another way of saying it would be “what God was, the Word also was” (Moloney 35).
- John is not saying that the word was just divine, but that it was both God and related to God.
- Some branches of Christianity translate this as “a God”, but that is inaccurate.
- This verse has three basic Christian affirmations, the eternal nature of Jesus, the differences between Jesus and God, and finally the interrelatedness of them. (Borchert 103). While this is not Trinitarian, it definitely has some of those kernel ideas.
Verse 2: He was with God in the beginning. (NIV)
- Again, there is no article in front of “beginning” in the Greek.
- The preposition used here, translated “with” is usually a preposition of place, normally translated as “to.” Here it is probably being used a preposition of relation.
- It is indicating a relationship between God and the word.
- An interesting use of this word is in the accompaniment of instruments (Liddell 684). The word was with God like pieces and the notes in a symphony working together and being together in a whole.
Verse 3: Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (NIV)
- The first two uses of “became/made” are aorist, or generic tenses that are usually past tense indicating a definite time. This is probably about the beginning of creation.
- The third use of “become/made” is a perfect tense, meaning a past event with continued consequences.
- ”Through” should not be taken to mean that the word did not have power in its own. This was a standard preposition to use in the early Church when talking about Jesus (Borchert 107).
- Literally, it reads “all” was made. “Things” is added to the translation because the Greek leaves open the question of what “all” is implied. It should probably be taken to be as inclusive as possible, everything except God.
- ”Were made” is an aorist verb. This has an indefinite aspect, meaning that there is no time limit attached to this. Everything, all the time.
- This verse is a transition from talking about the light to about creation and how the light affects what is created.
- The term translated “nothing” is more literally “not one” (thing). There is a contrast here between the grand sweep of “all” creation without limits, and the smallest minutia of “not one thing” being made without it.
Verse 4: In him was life, and that life was the light of men (NIV)
- Life and light are not separate metaphors here, but interrelated. Light brings life to the world.
- The implication here is that life could only be found in the word, in Jesus.
Verse 5: The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (NIV)
- ”Understood” is a tricky word.
- It is a translation of a word that means to overtake someone, catch them, overthrow or force them (Liddell 409). The image in the word is of chasing, catching, and punishing something.
- The root term is “to grasp” and the prefix here intensifies it, not changes it. So because of that it can mean an understanding of something, to comprehend it completely (Kittel Vol 4, 9).
- This isn't necessarily a negative term. It is used positively in Philippians 3:12-13.
- The use of “grasped” or “overpowered” is to be preferred because John's theology does not have the darkness in people, to intellectually know, but fighting against people choosing the light from the outside (Moloney 43).
- This should not be taken to be a dualistic view of the universe, with light and dark having equal power. This verse exhibits a post-resurrection faith (Borchert 107).
Verse 6: There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. (NIV)
- This is of course not the John who wrote the gospel, but John the Baptist.
- This is an odd interjection to make in the middle of a stream of near-poetry. Some people think that this verse marked an original beginning of the gospel (Borchert 111).
- It should be noted that there is a definite difference in how John is presented. John “became” where as the logos/Jesus is described as someone “without whom nothing became”.
Verse 7: He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. (NIV)
- The translation here makes it seem that “witness” and “testify” are two different root words. But more literally it would be “this man came for testimony, in order that he might give testimony.”
- The wording here indicates that not only does John testify, he is the testimony himself.
- ”To testify” is actually a subjunctive verb, a verb of possibility. He was the witness so that he might have the chance to spread that witness. It wasn't a sure thing.
Verse 8: He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (NIV)
- ”Witness” here is a verb in Greek, not a noun. Again, it is the mood of possibility. John's purpose was to witness about the light, but there is always an element of freedom here, that John had another option.
- Followers of John the Baptist existed alongside the Christians for many years and so this is a rebuttal of the idea that John was the person who everyone truly expected (Borchert 112).
Verse 9: The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (NIV)
- The “true light” is in contrast to John of the previous verse, who was only a witness.
- Due to a fluke in the Greek language, there is some question as to whether “coming into the world” is referring to “light” or “man.”
- If it refers to “light” then the light is coming.
- It could also refer to “man,” in which case this is about being light to every person who comes into the world.
- The most likely one is that “coming into the world” is referring to “light” because this passage is about the coming of the light, and if it refers to “man” then it is redundant theologically given the use of “all” earlier in the verse.
- This giving of light is not limited here to people who accept, but to every person.
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