The Word Becomes Flesh, John 1:1—5

The Gospel of John begins magnificently.  It not only establishes the eternity of the Son of God, but it confronts the popular false teachings of John’s day head on.  The Stoics and Greek philosophers of the New Testament era all spoke of “the word,” the logos, a cold intellectual and philosophical abstraction.  Here, though, the real Word is presented as the Person of the Living God, living and walking among men, who came to recognize Him, worship Him, and bore witness of Him to the world.   The idea of the Incarnate Word is prevalent in John’s Gospel, yet the word logos only appears in verses 1 and 14 of the first chapter.  It is clear, though, that the idea of the Word as being the personal revelation of God to man left an indelible mark on the heart of John and was never far from his mind.  He even wrote of the Word in Revelation—

13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  (Revelation 13:19)

Scholars often refer to the first 15 verses of chapter 1 as the “Logos Hymn.”

1.  The Prologue, verses 1, 2

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

The very best way to study these two verses is phrase-by-phrase so as not to miss a single morsel of spiritual nourishment.

  • In the beginning was the word.

These opening words are clearly intended to remind the reader of the opening words of Genesis.  “In the beginning” was the creation of the material universe, yet the Word existed even before then.  This is another way to say that the Word has been in existence from all eternity.   Perhaps as a slight at the heretical teachings that claimed the Word was created, John establishes in no uncertain terms that He was not created; the He existed before anything was ever created.  Perhaps as a nod toward Judaism, John uses this phrase to acknowledge the Word, existing from all eternity, was also present at the creation of the Hebrew religion.

Just as God is eternal, so is the Word.  He is, as John would later write, “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending” (Revelation 1:8).

  • Was the Word.

Both John and the Christians and the heretics taught their followers about the logos—the word.  But like the word “god,” it meant something completely different to them.  This is why John went to such lengths to explain who the real Word is as opposed to what the false teachers were saying he was.  For John, the Word was a Person, to the Greek philosophers, the word was hard to define.  Philo, a Greek philosopher whose ideas of “the word” influenced many false teachers of his day, used the word “logos” over a thousand times, but never with a firm definition.  But John leaves no doubt about the real Word.  The real Word, John wrote, was “with God.”  The small word “with” is packed with meaning which does not translate well into English; in the Greek it indicates a kind of forward motion toward something or being “face to face” with someone.  The Word, then, is described as being “with God,” but He was with God in the most intimate relationship possible.

Being “with God” as John wrote, can also imply personality and co-existence with God and it strongly suggests an expression of God.  These are very big ideas to be sure, but Merril C. Tenney offers a helpful summary:

This is the real meaning of the phrase.  Unity of nature rather than similarity or likeness is implied.  The eternal co-existence and unity of the Word with God is unmistakably asserted.

  • The Word was God.

This is a straight forward statement of fact.  In fact, in the Greek it is much more forceful as John places the predicate before the subject.  To we 21st century Christians, the fact that the Word, Jesus Christ, is God, is a statement of an obvious fact.  However, to 1st century Christians such a blatant statement would have been met with cheers of vindication from John’s readers.

  • He was with God in the beginning.

If verse 2 seems like a repetition of what John said in verse 1, that’s because it is.  Again, it is very forceful in the Greek:  “This One was in the beginning face-to-face with God.”

Many fine Biblical scholars have written pages and pages on these two verses of John 1, but probably the best commentary of all is Proverbs 8:27—30

27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, 28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,  29 when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. 30 Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence.

2.  Four relationships with the Word, verses 3—5

This section describes four basic relationships of the Word—

(1)  To the world, verse 3

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

The implications of the verse are staggering and cannot be overstated; one by one, all things in the material universe came into being through this Word.  The word “made” (egeneto) means “became,” not “constructed,” referring to an event, not a process.  The amazing universe in which we live, with all its intricate complexities, owes its origin to the imagination of its Creator, expressed in through His Word.

The second half of the verse, “without him nothing was made that has been made,” is emphatic, as though to guard against first century false teaching that taught certain things were really created by inferior creators, with God supervising.  What John made clear is a doctrine known as the “primacy of Christ.”   A similar thought is beautifully expressed in Colossians 1:16 and Hebrews 1:2—

16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  (Col. 1:16)

2[B]ut in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  (Heb. 1:2)

(2)  To life and light, verse 4a

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

An important distinction should be pointed out:  John wrote IN, not THROUGH.  That first clause means that from all eternity life was in the Word.  The word “life” is zoe , and it occcurs 36 times in this Gospel.  It is frequently coupled with the adjective “eternal,” and most often refers spiritual life, occasionally to physical life.  What is alluded to here is that the Word is seen as Source of all life, both physical and spiritual—that is, “life from above.”

As the Word is the great Source of all life, so He is also the Source of all light.  Here is another allusion to the book of Genesis:  the first act of God’s creative week was the creation of light.  In Psalm 36:9 we read another instance of where the idea of light and life is mentioned—

9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

Jesus Himself, the Incarnate Word, described Himself as being “the light of the world” in John 8:12.  The peculiar thing about this particular Light is that while it shines in the darkness, it is not appropriated by sinful men (1:5).

(3)  To men, verse 4b

[T]hat life was the light of men.

Where there is light, there is life.  Since the fall, mankind has been characterized by darkness, evil, and hatred, all antonyms of light.  Truth and love are the synonyms of light.

The Word is God’s personal revelation to men.  We refer to it as being personal because the Word proceeded from God, directed to man, like a beam of light shining into the darkness, illuminating hidden objected.

(4)  To darkness, verse 5

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

The first thing we notice in verse five is the change from the imperfect to the present tense:  not only was the light shining throughout the darkness that existed before His coming; it continues to shine to this day after His coming.  In other words, the coming of the Word into the darkness of a sinful world was not like a sudden burst of light that came and went, but rather like a continual beam of light, forever eliminating any vestiges of the darkness.

However, verse 5 is made up of two clauses, one a promise, the other a response.  The response of the darkness to the Light depends on our interpretation of the second clause.  The traditional interpretation is this:

  • The sad fact is, as John noted, while the Light is blazing like the noonday sun, “the darkness has not understood” the Light.  The “darkness” refers to fallen mankind, their souls shrouded by sin, disbelief, and rebellion.  Mankind, epitomized by the Jews, did not accept or appropriate the Light.

In recent years, another view has gained a sizeable following:

  • The darkness did not “overcome”, or “overpower” or “extinguish” the Light.  The idea is that despite how Christ was treated, it did not stop His light from shining.

Both views have merit; however, the traditional view is likely the correct one.  While it is true that the darkness did not extinguish the Light, that view does not fit the immediate context.  Note what verse 11 says—

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Though the world is seen as a hostile power, opposing the Light of the Word, it must be stressed that the Light not only shines in the dark world of sin, but it also shines into the hearts of individual sinners to chase the darkness of sin out.  When a sinner appropriates that Light, the Light triumphs over the darkness and a sinner is saved.  In time, the Light will return as a conquering Light, reshaping and recreating the world He originally created.  This day is a day we all look forward to.

William Hendriksen offers the following synthesis of 1:1—5:

a.   In the beginning.  When the universe was created, He already existed.

b.   At the creation.  All things came into being through Him.  Not a single thing in all creation came into being apart from Him.

c.   After the fall.  The world lay in the darkness of sin and hopelessness.  When the Light came, life was made manifest and He offered it to those dying in their sin.  However, the world at large rejected this offer of light and life, and violently opposed God’s message of truth and love.  But to individuals who respond in faith to the Light, eternal life is given.

©  2010, WitzEnd


Bookmark and Share

Another great day!

Blog Stats

  • 211,218 hits

Never miss a new post again.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 286 other followers

Follow revdocporter on Twitter

Who’d have guessed?

My Conservative Identity:

You are an Anti-government Gunslinger, also known as a libertarian conservative. You believe in smaller government, states’ rights, gun rights, and that, as Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Take the quiz at


%d bloggers like this: