John 1:1–14. The Word.
Key Notes: Tao. Absolute and composite unities. Jesus is Creator. Jesus is Life and Light. Incorrect views of Jesus' humanity and deity. Receiving.
The text of the Prologue to the Gospel of John is simple in its grammar and complex in its meanings. But its truths refute half a dozen heresies and it is a weapon in our hands that we must grasp and learn to wield in our spiritual warfare.
1:1 “In the beginning was the WORD”....
When is the beginning? Time began with the creation of the celestial spheres on which time is based. Prior to that event, the Word existed.
What is “the WORD”? The OT uses the word to indicate God’s commands and goes no further with it; the meaning does not change or become philosophical in Hebrew use. The Greeks, however, made much of the Word, the Logos.
The Word is “Logos” in Greek and comes from the verb “lego”, to speak. The Greek word changed over time: to speak, narrate, calculate, reflect, and then to reason. The noun form (logos) picked up the idea of reason, and the meaning went to wisdom, the orderly nature of the world, a shaping power that gives order and life to the world, and finally, a god, the creator. In English, we use the word logos in many compounds indicating orderly collections of knowledge: catalog, anthropology, geology, psychology, logic, and theology—the orderly knowledge of God.
Interestingly, the word “Word” in Chinese is “Tao”, meaning way, truth, method, or philosophy. Taoist philosophy shows the way, seeking to enable the individual to get into harmony with the principles of the universe. Jesus is the Tao, God's Way, His Truth, His Method and His Philosophy.
1:1 “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.
This is a loaded expression, indicating an intimate relationship to God (“with”), and being God.
It has been pointed out that “the Word was God” does not have the definite pronoun “the” in front of God. Therefore some have taught that the Word was “a god”, not The God. But the Greek actually reads “God was the Word”, putting the emphasis on God. If it had said “The God was the Word”, it would have required Word and God to be identical, making an absolute monotheism. But it rather says that God was the Word, as Christian theism teaches.
But does not the OT teach that God is one, an absolute unity? The Hebrew word for “one LORD” (Deut.6:4) is "echod" and indicates a composite, rather than an absolute unity. The same OT word is used for marriage--“they shall be one flesh”. (Gen.2:24). A different word ("yachid") is used for an absolute unity.
1:2 John repeats to make sure we didn’t miss it: “He was in the beginning with God. “
1:3 “…all things were made by Him” (and if we are not sure about that...) “and without Him was not anything made that was made.”
1:3 Now we learn more. The Word made everything there is. Since Genesis 1:1 says “In the Beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, we are compelled to say that in the beginning Jesus Christ, the Son of God, created the heaven and the earth. That is hard for us to process because we think God the Father is the Creator. In fact Jesus Christ is the effective agent for the formation of all that exists. Paul confirms:
“…in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Col.1:16–17
1:4 “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.” The proper noun “He / Him” refers to a human being. John 1:14 elaborates: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” John means for us to understand that when he speaks of the WORD, he refers to a human being, Jesus.
“In Him was life….” What kind of life? Was He lively? Did He have an ebullient personality?
*Creation life. Without Him was not anything made that was made. Other passages that confirm Jesus as Creator are Col.1:16, Heb.1:2, and Rev.3:14.
*Preservation of life. "In Him all things hold together." Col.1:17
*Salvation life. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” Jn.3:36
“…and the Life was the Light of men.” How is Christ’s life a light to everyone in the world?
“The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” Jn.1:9. He said “I am the Light of the world.” Jn.8:12
*He is “the desire of all nations” Hag.2:7 KJV. The Christ of the Andes is a compelling image that welcomes all to come to Him.
*He is “the image of the invisible God.” Col.1:15. He is the glory of God. “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only--begotten of the Father.” Jn.1:14. He is the sunlight as God the Father is the sun.
*He is the standard by which every human being is measured and will be measured. “But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” Jn.3:21. Those who hide from the light do not want their evil deeds to be exposed.
“For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light do we see light.” Psa.36:9
Thomas Cahill’s conclusion to his book, "Desire of the Everlasting Hills" , reads:
“But whether we are Jew or Christian, believer or atheist, the figure of Jesus—as final Jewish prophet, as innocent and redeeming victim, as ideal human being—is threaded through our society and folded into our imagination in such a way that it cannot be excised. He is the mysterious ingredient that laces everything we taste, the standard by which all moral actions are finally judged.” Doubleday,’99; p. 319
1:5 The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it—or understand it. The Darkness is not the absence of light; it is a positive force in opposition to Christ.
1:6–9 “There was a man sent from God whose name was John….” The narrative is interrupted, like an intermission in an intense mystery story. We will hear more about this John, the Baptist, and how he did his work of witness later. He was not the Light, but came as a witness to the Light so that all might believe through Him.
1:10 “He was in the world yet the world knew Him not.”
The WORD appeared in the World. The" World" is a special word in John; it is “kosmos” in Greek, from which we get "cosmetic” in English. The World is not the earth; it is the organized culture of human beings in opposition to Christ. We are not to love the world (I Jn. 2:15), although God does, but we are stewards of the earth and have every right to love it and care for it. Gen.1:28
1:11–12 The expression is intensified: He came into the World; He came to His own home and His own people did not receive Him. It sounds as if He failed. But “to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power (or authority) to become Children of God”. It is implied that those who received Him would likely not be His own people, but mostly Gentiles, a radical idea.
We who receive Him are born of God, not born of blood ( natural generation) nor the will of the flesh (sexual desire) or the will of man (the deliberate intent of parents).
1:14 “And the WORD became flesh and dwelled among us”. Now we know for certain that we are learning about a human being. He was full of glory and truth, and the disciples could see it, glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father. He was a human being and yet with the attributes of God the Father. John will not use the WORD again. Once Jesus’ identity as a human being is established, he does not need to use the word " WORD" any longer.
“He dwelt among” us would be He "tented" or "tabernacled" among us in Greek. When that expression is coupled with beholding His glory, we are reminded that the Shekinah glory of God was seen in the Holy of Holies of Israel’s tabernacle in the wilderness. We are witnessing the fulfillment of a type. The tabernacle in the wilderness is a typical picture of Christ tenting with us.
Many heresies are combatted in these verses. Luther, with remarkable brevity said “'In the beginning' is against Arius, and 'the Word was with God' is against Sabellius”. So two major heresies are refuted in the first verse of the Gospel of John.
Arius (~400AD) thought that Jesus was a created being, so that “there was a time when He was not.” But John says He “was in the beginning” and “all things were made through Him”. Modern Jehovah’s Witnesses are Arian, teaching that Jesus is a lesser god, a created being. (For other notes on Arius and Arianism see Col.1).
Sabellius (~400AD) was concerned about the drift of the Christians toward tritheism and in order to protect monotheism, proposed a modal Trinity: the Trinity is three masks that God wears. As the Father He is the Lawgiver and Creator; as the Son He is the Redeemer; as the Spirit He is the dispenser of grace. We agree that God is one, essentially. But the word “with” clearly infers a relationship, a fellowship within the being of God. We do not have an absolute oneness if “the WORD is with God and the WORD is God". We do not protect God by making up wrong doctrine. “Jesus Only” Pentecostals have a modal idea of the Trinity. Modalism has been taught by Christians in India because it is compatible with Hindu ideas of God. The Trinity will be discussed again in later chapters of John.
Some of the early Jewish disciples (called Ebionites) thought Jesus was a great prophet and Lawgiver, a teacher of righteousness, but a man only, not God. “And the Word was God” opposes their view. The Ebionites have many modern followers. My friend, dying of a neurologic disease, refused Christ’s atonement, saying that Christ has given the world its highest moral standard, but nothing more than that.
Science says that the universe evolved by chance. Dawkins says the appearance of intelligent design is an illusion. John says “All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.”
Secular humanists say there is no divine revelation. We mortals have to find our way in the dark by reason alone. John says. “In Him was Life and the Life was the Light of men. And the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.”
Modern liberalism believes in “salvation by character.” Or, to follow Hinduism, we should seek to find the god within. John says “to all who received Him, He gave power to become children of God.” 1:12
A summary of the WORD:
To the Jew, Jesus Christ fulfills the commandments of God.
To the Greek, He is God’s wisdom, the creator of the Universe.
To the Chinese, Jesus is God’s method, His philosophy, His Way.
To us, He is all of these things, and God Himself, manifest in the flesh, to be received by faith.
What does John mean by " receive Him"? It seems abstract and unreal.
But what does it mean to refuse Him? That we readily understand. We may have been saying "no" to God, "no" to Jesus for years. We enjoy being rebels. We are too busy, it's not important, I'm not sure, maybe God does not exist, evolution and all, everything is relative, maybe later--I'm having fun just now.
To receive Him is to do the opposite, to turn around and face Him and say "yes"
." You're right, I need help, I feel your pull. I will give in and do what You say. "