(Henceforth my articles on scripture will be posted as letters to my wife, Karri. These bible studies started that way, as studies written specifically for her, and I don’t want to get caught up in the narcissistic building of a readership outside of that context. These articles will therefore be posted in their original, letter, form.)
This week we’re studying John chapter 1, verses 1-18. This is the preamble to John’s gospel, and some very important scripture to examine in depth as we prepare to examine the ministry of Christ.
The Word Became Flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
John 1:1-18 (NIV)
The nature of this scripture is such that it’s difficult to strip it down to bite-sized pieces and tackle it a bit at a time. This scripture is complicated to the point that Christian theologians are still arguing over it.
First, lets examine this capitalized “Word” that John repeats over and over. The greek here is one of the most confusing and difficult translations I can imagine, and is a word that has been examined in depth by great theologians and philosophers throughout history: “logos.” This word has enough meanings that you could almost write a complete sentence using it as every part of speech, but its primary meanings lie at the very heart of philosophy; that is, it is thought, reasoning, motive, and expression. The word “logos” is translated in context as, “word”, “saying”, “account”, “speech”, “Word”, “thing”, and then as another 32 miscellaneous translations throughout the Bible in King James Version alone, which should drive home the fact that it is among the most difficult and most thoroughly examined concepts in all of history. Since John opens up here with use of the word in relation to God, we can assume that he means some sort of divine expression or thought. Later in the verses above, John says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” This indicates that he is using the word “logos” for Christ. So Christ is the “logos” in this context.
The first two verses would seem to indicate that Christ was not just God’s human incarnation, but a fully separate being entirely. One of the interesting things to note here, something argued over since the ink was drying on the sheepskin parchment, is the translation from Greek of the third phrase in the first verse, “…and the Word was God.” Many historians like to argue that the most accurate translation to this phrase actually has an additional indefinite article: “…and the Word was a God.” Now, I don’t know enough about Greek to be able to comment on the veracity of this claim, but many use this verse to discredit the Holy Trinity, saying Christ was the literal “Son” of God, a completely separate being retaining certain of the powers of God. Just like most eisegetical interpretations of scripture (interpretations that impose a preexisting belief or prejudice on scripture), this argument relies on one to ignore the surrounding scripture. In John 14:
Jesus the Way to the Father
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
John 14:5-14 (NIV)
Jesus first says that if his disciples truly knew Him, they would know the Father, then goes on to say that “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The next verses are a perfect illustration of the Trinity, the relationship between Father and Son, between God and Jesus Christ. Unless you want to try and somehow discredit Christ’s own words describing His relationship with God the Father, I think you’ll have a hard time proving that Jesus was “a” God and not a facet, the earthly incarnation of “the” God.
The next verses in John chapter 1 indicate Christ’s involvement in creation from the very beginning. Colossians 1:16 talks about Christ as the hand that effected creation at the urging of the spoken word of God, or perhaps that Christ simply IS the incarnation of the spoken word of God. Very deep philosophical ground here, and we’ll try not to get any deeper. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” When John speaks of “light” throughout this book, he’s talking about the illumination of a soul to the life available through Christ, “life” here being the salvation and deliverance from sin based entirely on Christ’s atonement at the Cross. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it.” Another translation of this is that “the darkness has not overcome it.” These verses indicate the supremacy of Christ’s illumination of a soul over the forces of darkness.
Concerning the next paragraph, John (the apostle) is talking about the mission of John (the Baptist) as a prophetic witness to the light and life of (and in) Christ, to reach as many as he could so that those who heard might believe. Many people still believed that John the Baptist was more than the prophet he was, even to the point of some declaring him the Messiah and worshiping him. John is correcting this mistake by directing them to the real light; “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
Verses 10-11 seem to reinforce the idea of Christ as the incarnation of the spoken word of God, as the effector of creation. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.” The world, which at the beginning Christ brought into being, did not recognize Him. This is rather profound since you would imagine that the world and its peoples would have at least felt a kinship, a sort of attraction to Him as though they had known Him all along, sort of like you and I felt when we met and fell in love. That feeling that whatever was growing between us was foreordained, that we’d known each other all our lives. It was a simple recognition of the truth, that we were destined for each other. That the world was unable to make the same recognition with the hand that created it is very telling. This is how far sin has corrupted us, that the perfection of Christ was that alien to us. “He came to that which was His own, but they did not receive Him.” Again, the idea of ownership over us, Christ as the hand of creation.
“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” So even though the world Christ helped create did not recognize him (even His disciples struggled with disbelief), John says that those who received Him gain the right to become children of God. He makes sure we know what receiving Christ means in the parenthetical statement, “those who believed in his name,” and this will become something he examines in depth through the words of Christ in John chapter 3, at Christ’s meeting with Nicodemus. John goes on to describe this rebirth not as as a physical, human rebirth, and not even something we can will into happening (our salvation is not something we can cause), but as a spiritual rebirth, willed by God.
John (the Apostle) gives witness to Christ and his glory next in verse 14, calling Christ the “One and Only, who came from the Father,” which is also translated as “the only begotten,” indicating a difference in the way Christ is the Son of God from the way that we can become children of God. While Christ is the actual issue of God, a facet of His existence manifested on Earth, we are that which was created. The transformation He undertakes in us when we make the decision to rely entirely on His grace gradually over the course of our lives and in the life after changes us into something “like” Christ, sinless and angelic. Obviously the final part of that transformation must occur after life ends, but it occurs nonetheless. “..full of grace and truth.” Christ knew His mission before he was born, indeed from the moment of creation. He came here knowing full well how His life and mission would play out. Not only that, but He also came full of truth, meaning he came knowing the answers to the mysteries of the ages, reinforcing the point that Christ was present for and involved in creation.
John the Baptist preached, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”(Verse 15) John knew that Christ, the one about whom he was preaching, was God’s earthly manifestation, and had been present for and involved in the very act of creation. “From the fullness of grace we have all received one blessing after another.” John is testifying to the countless blessings of life in Christ, as He transforms us into creatures like Him.
Verses 17 and 18, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (again, the “only begotten”), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” This is something Paul talks about in Romans, the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as the vessel of grace. The law was introduced in order to bring into sharp relief the need for grace:
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Romans 3:20 (NIV)
While the need for grace (consciousness of sin) was illustrated by the law, grace did not come to creation except through Christ. No one has ever “seen” the Father except Christ, yet Christ has “made Him known.” Does this mean that God the Father was never revealed to Moses on mount Sinai? That the voice Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Issac and others heard was not that of God the Father? Or is there a deeper, more encompassing meaning here? The word here “seen” means to behold or regard, a literal seeing of a physical object. Perhaps, again, we’re dealing with this theme of Christ as the effect of God the Father’s spoken word, the incarnation or manifestation of God. Is it possible that the Son of God was present as these incarnations of God throughout history in the Old Testament? The scripture for those revelations specifically refers to “God”, not a surrogate or merely an incarnation OF God, but God Himself. It’s a mystery, and one that will likely not be answered until we get to see Him face-to-face and ask.
As always, in the love of Christ,