Commentary on John 1:1

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  • Commentary on John 1:1

    By Various Authors

    “The Evangelist sends us to the eternal sanctuary of God and teaches us that the Word was, as it were, hidden there before He revealed Himself in the outward workmanship of the world.”

    John's introductory words "in the beginning" would have expected to be followed by the word "God" as in Genesis 1:1, but instead introduce the Word. And so even with this first phrase, John causes us to begin thinking that this "Word" is more that an abstract philosophical concept as seen in the Greek culture, but that the Word was divine, which he subsequently proves.

    An old writer suggest “These words (Jn 1:1) should be written upon tablets of gold and hung in every church building in the world.”

    - John Calvin

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    "There never was a time when the Word was not. There never was a thing that did not depend on Him (the Word) for its existence (cf Col 1:17)."

    with God - It certainly makes clear the distinct existence of the Word with respect to God. The Word is no mere ‘emanation from God’ as in much first-century thinking.

    - Leon Morris

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    Logos - John and the heretics both spoke of the Word (o logos); but though the term was the same, the meaning was different. John’s doctrine is not dependent on that of heretics nor on that of speculative philosophers like Philo, a prominent Alexandrian who flourished in the first century A.D. One never knows what to make of Philo’s Logos. He employs the term no fewer than thirteen hundred times! but the meaning is never very definite. It is described now as a divine attribute, then again as a bridge between God and the world, identical with neither but partaking of the nature of both. Philo allegorized, which makes it difficult to grasp his meaning. Thus, in his comments on Gen. 3:24 he discusses the Cherubim, equipped with flaming sword, who are placed at Eden’s gates to prevent access to the tree of life. As Philo sees it, these Cherubim are two divine potencies: God’s loving-kindness and his sovereignty. The sword is the Logos or Reason which unites the two. Balaam, the foolish prophet, had no sword (Reason), for he said to the ass: “If I had a sword, I would have pierced thee” (On the Cherubim, XXXII). Surely, the term as employed by the evangelist cannot derive its meaning from such allegorization. It is rooted not in Greek but in Semitic thought. Already in the Old Testament the Word of God is represented as a Person. Note especially Ps. 33:6: “By the Word of Jehovah (Lxx: to logo to kuriou) were the heavens made.” What is probably the best commentary on John 1:1 is found in Pr. 8:27-30 "When He established the heavens, I was there, When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, When He made firm the skies above, When the springs of the deep became fixed, When He set for the sea its boundary, So that the water should not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him." (William Hendriksen - New Testament Commentary Exposition of the Gospel According to John)

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    In the 2nd century, Clement of Alexandria wrote that one of the atheistic Platonic philosophers, said of John 1:1-3, “This barbarian hath comprised more stupendous stuff in three lines, than we have done in all our voluminous discourses.”

    “Mark begins his story of Jesus at Jordan, Matthew and Luke start at Bethlehem. But John goes back to the very beginning of history, even beyond it, as if to say, ‘There is only one true perspective in which to see the story—you must see it in the light of eternity.’… In the first stanza of his λόγος hymn John affirmed three truths about the λόγος. First, He existed eternally before the creation of the universe. Second, He coexisted eternally with God. Third, He is Himself of the same nature as God. In His nature He is essential deity.

    John’s contention is that at the point where we reach the boundary of all human conceptualizing we have to begin our speaking about Jesus Christ; he shares God’s eternity; he was with God in the beginning (2). ‘If we ask the fundamental question of the philosopher, “Why is there not nothing?” the answer is that in the “beginning was the Word” ’. Although he lived within time as a human being he is not bound by time. He predates all existence; ‘there never was when he was not’ (Athanasius). However far back we set the beginning of things, and whatever model we employ to describe that origin, according to John, Jesus was present as the presiding Lord of that moment and event (cf. Ge 1:3). This truth has major implications for the way we conceive God. Since Jesus is the eternal Word of God (14), and since ‘I [Jesus] and the Father are one’ (Jn 10:30) and ‘Anyone who has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9), God is always Jesus-like! ‘God is Christlike and in Him is no unChristlikeness at all’ (A. M. Ramsey). This is important for the way we read the Old Testament. The significance of this opening phrase of John is that the God who speaks in the Old Testament, who entered into covenant with his people Israel, and inspired and moved the prophets, was none other than the God known in Jesus Christ. God has not changed or evolved. Jesus Christ was always at the heart of God.

    New Testament Greek has a perfectly usable word for ‘divine’, theios, which appears elsewhere in the New Testament. John chooses not to use it. His point is that there is no distinction in essence between God and the Word (or between the Father and the Son). Both are equal in Godhead and therefore equally to be honoured, adored and worshipped; and he says it straightforwardly, the Word was God. ‘When John says “the Word was God”, this must be understood in the light of Jewish pride in monotheism. Even though this writer regarded monotheism as a central tenet in his religion, he yet could not withhold from the Word the designation “God”.’… By putting the relationship thus, John is also avoiding the error of a complete identification of the two persons. To quote Tasker, ‘the Word does not by himself make up the entire Godhead’, i.e. there is more to the Godhead than either the Father, or the Son. We need great care in using ‘more’ here since, as Augustine taught centuries ago, ‘no two persons are greater than any one person’; i.e. the Father plus the Son is not greater in deity than the Father alone, or than the Son alone, since both, and both together with the Spirit, are one Godhead. At this point we confront the profound mystery of the Trinity and apprehension moves imperceptibly (but delightedly) into adoration.

    - Bruce Milne, The Message of John Bible Speaks Today

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    "John wants us to stand in awe of Jesus as God and as the One who reveals the unseen God to us, just as a word reveals an unseen thought. It is foundational to the Christian faith and crucial to your personal faith that you understand and embrace the truth that Jesus Christ is fully God. Bishop Moule once stated (source unknown), “A Savior not quite God is a bridge broken at the farther end.” John Mitchell put it (An Everlasting Love [Multnomah Press], pp. 13, 14), “If Jesus is not God, then we are sinners without a Savior… If Jesus were only a man, then He died for His own sins. And we are still in our sins. We have no hope.” In order to reconcile sinful people to the holy God, Jesus must be God in human flesh. John skillfully presents this in the prologue (1:1-18) of his Gospel. Colin Kruse (John [IVP Academic], pp. 59-60) points out: "The Prologue … introduces the main themes that are to appear throughout the Gospel: Jesus’ pre-existence (Jn 1:1a/ Jn 17:5), Jesus’ union with God (Jn 1:1c/Jn 8:58; 10:30; 20:28), the coming of life in Jesus (Jn 1:4a/Jn 5:26; 6:33; 10:10; 11:25-26; 14:6), the coming of light in Jesus (Jn 1:4b, 9/ Jn 3:19; 8:12; 12:46), the conflict between light and darkness (Jn 1:5, Jn 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46), believing in Jesus (Jn 1:7, 12, Jn 2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:69; 11:25; 14:1; 16:27; 17:21; 20:25), the rejection of Jesus (Jn 1:10c, 11, Jn 4:44; 7:1; 8:59; 10:31; 12:37-40; 15:18), divine regeneration (Jn 1:13, Jn 3:1-7), the glory of Jesus (Jn 1:14, Jn 12:41; 17:5, 22, 24), the grace and truth of God in Jesus (Jn 1:14, 17, Jn 4:24; 8:32; 14:6; 17:17; 18:38), Jesus and Moses/the law (Jn 1:17, Jn 1:45; 3:14; 5:46; 6:32; 7:19; 9:29), only Jesus has seen God (Jn 1:18, 6:46), and Jesus’ revelation of the Father (Jn 1:18, Jn 3:34; 8:19, 38; 12:49-50; 14:6-11; 17:8)." Kruse compares the Prologue in John to a foyer in a theater, where you can see various scenes from the drama that you are about to see inside."
    - Steven Cole

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    Beggining (arche) - can mean “source,” or “origin” (cf. Col. 1:18; Rev. 3:14);or “rule,” “authority,” “ruler,” or “one in authority” (cf. Luke 12:11; 20:20; Ro 8:38; 1Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15; Titus 3:1). Both of those connotations are true of Christ, who is both the Creator of the universe (Jn 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) and its ruler (Col. 2:10; Eph. 1:20–22; Phil. 2:9–11). But archē refers here to the beginning of the universe depicted in Genesis 1:1.

    Arche is definitely a favorite word of John (8x in the Gospel, 10x in his epistles, 3x in Revelation). Arche is found a total of 55x in 54 verses in the NT. - Mt 19:4, 8; 24:8, 21; Mk 1:1; 10:6; 13:8, 19; Luke 1:2; 12:11; 20:20; John 1:1-2; 2:11; 6:64; 8:25, 44; 15:27; 16:4; Acts 10:11; 11:5, 15; 26:4; Ro 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Phil 4:15; Col 1:16, 18; 2:10, 15; Titus 3:1; Heb 1:10; 2:3; 3:14; 5:12; 6:1; 7:3; 2Pet 3:4; 1John 1:1; 2:7, 13-14, 24 (twice); 1Jn 3:8, 11; 2 John 1:5-6; Jude 1:6; Rev 3:14; 21:6; 22:13

    - John MacArthur

    On Logos - John borrowed the use of the term “Word” not only from the vocabulary of the OT but also from Gr. philosophy, in which the term was essentially impersonal, signifying the rational principle of “divine reason,” “mind,” or even “wisdom.” John, however, imbued the term entirely with OT and Christian meaning (e.g., Ge 1:3 where God’s Word brought the world into being; Pss 33:6; 107:20; Pr 8:27 where God’s Word is His powerful self-expression in creation, wisdom, revelation, and salvation) and made it refer to a person, i.e., Jesus Christ. Greek philosophical usage, therefore, is not the exclusive background of John’s thought. Strategically, the term “Word” serves as a bridge-word to reach not only Jews but also the unsaved Greeks. John chose this concept because both Jews and Greeks were familiar with it.

    "heretical groups almost from the moment John penned these words have twisted their meaning to support their false doctrines concerning the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. Noting that theos (God) is anarthrous (not preceded by the definite article), some argue that it is an indefinite noun and mistranslate the phrase, “the Word was divine” (i.e., merely possessing some of the qualities of God) or, even more appalling, “the Word was a god.” The absence of the article before theos, however, does not make it indefinite. Logos (Word) has the definite article to show that it is the subject of the sentence (since it is in the same case as theos). Thus the rendering “God was the Word” is invalid, because “the Word,” not “God,” is the subject. It would also be theologically incorrect, because it would equate the Father (“God” whom the Word was with in the preceding clause) with the Word, thus denying that the two are separate persons. The predicate nominative (God) describes the nature of the Word, showing that He is of the same essence as the Father (cf. H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [Toronto: MacMillan, 1957], 139–40; A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament [Reprint: Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978], 67–68). According to the rules of Greek grammar, when the predicate nominative (God in this clause) precedes the verb, it cannot be considered indefinite (and thus translated “a god” instead of God) merely because it does not have the article. That the term God is definite and refers to the true God is obvious for several reasons. First, theos appears without the definite article four other times in the immediate context (Jn 1:6, 12, 13, 18; cf. Jn 3:2, 21; 9:16; Matt. 5:9). Not even the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ distorted translation of the Bible renders the anarthrous theos “a god” in those verses. Second, if John’s meaning was that the Word was divine, or a god, there were ways he could have phrased it to make that unmistakably clear. For example, if he meant to say that the Word was merely in some sense divine, he could have used the adjective theios (cf. 2Peter 1:4-note). It must be remembered that, as Robert L. Reymond notes, “No standard Greek lexicon offers ‘divine’ as one of the meanings of theos, nor does the noun become an adjective when it ‘sheds’ its article” (Jesus, Divine Messiah [Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presb. & Ref., 1990], 303). Or if he had wanted to say that the Word was a god, he could have written ho logos ēn theos. If John had written ho theos ēn ho logos, the two nouns (theos and logos) would be interchangeable, and God and the Word would be identical. That would have meant that the Father was the Word, which, as noted above, would deny the Trinity. But as Leon Morris asks rhetorically, “How else [other than theos ēn ho logos] in Greek would one say, ‘the Word was God’?” (The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 77 n. 15). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John chose the precise wording that accurately conveys the true nature of the Word, Jesus Christ. “By theos without the article, John neither indicates, on the one hand, identity of Person with the Father; nor yet, on the other, any lower nature than that of God Himself” (H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Gospel of John [Reprint; Winona Lake, Ind.: Alpha, 1979], 48). (John 1-11 MacArthur New Testament Commentary)

    - John MacArthur


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    "Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ’, it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, ‘Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.’"

    "Although the meanings of ēn ('was' - {imperfect tense of eimi}) and egeneto (from ginomai) (rendered 'were made' in Jn 1:3, 'came' in Jn 1:6 and 'became' in Jn 1:14) often overlap, John repeatedly uses the two verbs side by side to establish something of a contrast. For example, in Jn 8:58 Jesus insists, '[Before] Abraham was born [a form of the second verb {Ed - eimi in the present tense]}, I am [a form of the first verb {Ed - genesthai = ginomai in the aorist tense]}.' In other words, when John uses the two verbs (eimi and ginomai) in the same context, ēn frequently signals existence, whereas egeneto signals 'coming into being' or 'coming into use'. In the beginning, the Word was already in existence. Stretch our imagination backward as we will, we can find no point in time where we may agree with Anus, who, speaking of the Word, said, 'There was once when he was not.'"

    (- D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John -The Pillar New Testament Commentary)

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    Words are important for words that convey thoughts. We don't truly know what another person is thinking unless they express their thoughts in words (and so it is with God - how could we possibly know what He is thinking if He did not express Himself in words!). It is by means of words that we communicate. It is by means of words that we reveal what is happening. John chooses the word, Logos, which was familiar in the minds of both Hebrew and Greek thinkers, and both groups to one degree or another had the idea of beginnings related to the word Logos. And so John's opening would remind the Hebrew thinker of Genesis 1:1 (In the beginning - Lxx = "en arche" just as in Jn 1:1) and Genesis 1:3 ("Then God said, “Let there be light.”) God spoke and all came into existence (Heb 11:3-note) To the Greek mind Logos was "regarded in a multi-various and ambiguous fashion. The word Logos has a unique capacity to convey God's ultimate Self disclosure in the Person of His Son."

    (Alistair Begg)

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    The angelic heavens, the sidereal heavens, and the firmament or terrestrial heavens, were all made to start into existence by a word; what if we say by the Word, "For without him was not anything made that is made." (Jn 1:3) It is interesting to note the mention of the Spirit in the next clause, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth; the breath is the same as is elsewhere rendered Spirit. Thus the three persons of the Godhead unite in creating all things. How easy for the Lord to make the most ponderous orbs, and the most glorious angels! A word, a breath could do it. It is as easy for God to create the universe as for a man to breathe, nay, far easier, for man breathes not independently, but borrows the breath in his nostrils from his Maker. It may be gathered from this verse that the constitution of all things is from the infinite wisdom, for his word may mean his appointment and determination. A wise and merciful Word has arranged, and a living Spirit sustains all the creation of Jehovah.

    - C. H. Spurgeon

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    "O Thou Son of the Blessed! Grace stripped Thee of thy glory. Grace brought Thee down from heaven. Grace made Thee bear such burdens of sin, such burdens of curse as are unspeakable. Grace was in Thy heart. Grace came bubbling up from Thy bleeding side. Grace was in Thy tears. Grace was in Thy prayers. Grace streamed from Thy thorn-crowned brow! Grace came forth with the nails that pierced Thee, with the thorns that pricked Thee! Oh, here are unsearchable riches of grace! Grace to make sinners happy! Grace to make angels wonder! Grace to make devils astonished!”

    - John Bunyan

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    The last clause asserts the community of essence, which is not inconsistent with distinction of persons, and makes the communion of active Love possible; for none could, in the depths of eternity, dwell with and perfectly love and be loved by God, except one who Himself was God. John 1:1 stands apart as revealing the pretemporal and essential nature of the Word. In it the deep ocean of the divine nature is partially disclosed, though no created eye can either plunge to discern its depths or travel beyond our horizon to its boundless, shoreless extent. The remainder of the passage deals with the majestic march of the self-revealing Word through creation, and illumination of humanity, up to the climax in the Incarnation. (Alexander Maclaren, John 1 Commentary)

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    James M Boice's four reasons why it matters that Jesus Christ is God.

    First, it means that believers know what God is like. Is He the god of the philosophers like Plato and Immanuel Kant, the god of the mystics, or the god of new-age pantheism or panentheism? Or is He the God of the Bible? If Jesus Christ is God, then people can know what God is like. To know Jesus Christ is to know God, for Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If one wants to know what God is like, he should study the life and teachings of Christ in the Bible.

    Second, it means that God was always like Jesus. Many have concluded that there is a great difference between the Lord Jesus and the God of the Old Testament. A little girl who was raised under the preaching of a liberal pastor was reading in the Old Testament a bloody story of the defeat of Israel’s enemies. Surely it was wrong for God to order that, she surmised. “Well,” she concluded, “that happened before God became a Christian!”

    If the Word was with God before time began and if God’s Word is part of the eternal scheme of things, it means that God was always like Jesus. Sometimes people tend to think of God as stern and avenging and that Jesus changed God’s anger into love and altered His attitude toward the human race. The New Testament knows nothing of that idea. Does God the Father hate sin? Yes! Christ has always hated sin also. Does God the Father love sinners? Yes! Therefore Christ loves them also.

    Third, the truth that Jesus Christ is God means that His death for sin is of infinite value. His death is the only acceptable and sufficient sacrifice for sin. Because He is human and sinless, His sacrifice is appropriate and acceptable, and because He is God, His sacrifice is infinite in value.

    Fourth, because Jesus Christ is God, it means that He is able to satisfy all the needs of the human heart. In Ephesians 3:18–19 Paul prayed that believers “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” During the Napoleonic wars in Europe some of the emperor’s soldiers opened a prison that had been used by the Spanish Inquisition. In one of the many dungeons they found the skeleton of a prisoner chained to the wall. On the wall, carved into the stone with a sharp piece of metal was a crude cross. And around the cross were the Spanish words for the four dimensions in Ephesians 3:18–19. On one side was the word “breadth,” and on the other side was the word “length,” above was the word “height,” and below was the word “depth.” Left to rot away in chains, this persecuted believer comforted himself with the thought that God was able to satisfy every spiritual need of his heart. (Mcleod)

  • #2
    1. William Mounce: But in Jn. 1:1, the logos is not only from God, but is God. According to John, this logos was in the beginning, was with God, and was God Himself (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Word, page 803).
    2. NIDNTT: “In the beginning” - not “at the beginning” of Creation (Gen. 1:1), but in the “time before time” of divine eternity - was the Word (pre-existence of the Word, Jn. 1:1), the Word was with God (personal reference, Jn. 1:2), indeed, “the Word was God” (essential divinity of the Word, Jn. 1:1) (3:1115, Word, B. Klappert).
    3. TDNT: Concerning the Logos it reads:
    Here, then, that which is en arche is that which is “before” all time, or, more correctly, that concerning which no temporal statement can be made (1:482, archē, Delling).
    4. Frederick Danker: John 1:1abc, 14...It is the distinctive teaching of the Fourth Gospel that this divine 'Word' took on human form in a historical person, that is, Jesus (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, λόγος, page 601)
    Comment>

    • #3
      Well, is not John 1 the fundamental nature of what it means to be a Christian? I mean, even the Roman Catholics, much as I disagree with them in many points, prior to Vatican II used to conclude the Mass with a reading from John 1:1-14. And the Angelus is the same portion. The portion definitely indicates the difference between any kind of orthodox Christian and any kind of other individual.
      Comment>
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