Perhaps John 1:1 is the most controversial verse in the entire Bible. It is particularly significant in the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Biblical Unitarians. Not only so, it is of great interest to many who do not claim to be Christian. John’s Prologue is certainly a portion of Scripture that attracts the attention of many people, and for good reason. Its meaning gives definition to the Deity and presents a worldview that is inconsistent with all other worldviews. I recently offered a study on John’s Prologue, which can be found in the HERE . I wrote it with a bent toward answering the objections of the Biblical Unitarians. This time I wish to simply read through it for what I see there.
Let’s look at the first three verses of John’s Gospel:
John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (2) The same was in the beginning with God (3) All things were made by him and without him was not any thing made that was made.
The context of the beginning is the time of creation. What the text tells us is that whoever the Word is, everything that came into existence did so through him. He participated in bringing all things into existence. In Genesis 1:1 we are told that in the beginning God created… everything in existence. What does this mean?
First of all, what I see here in John’s Gospel is that the Creator is taking responsibility for all that is. Notice that John refers to the Creator as God. What does it mean to be God of anything? Psalm 82 seems to be saying that god (small “g”) can be a ruler of any kind. God calls mere men who rule gods. Jesus, himself, refers to this Scripture later in the book of John. If we apply this idea to John 1:1, what is the implication? It seems to me that John in referring to the Creator as God is saying he is the Ruler, but the Ruler of what? There was, as yet, nothing in existence! What I see occurring is that the Creator instituted first his office as Ruler – God, if you will – over what he is about to do. So, before anything is brought into existence, the Player is defined. The office of God or Ruler (LORD) comes into existence at the moment of the first creative act. It is like the moment my first daughter was born. I wasn’t a father until she came into existence. Whatever I was before that moment, I was not a father. However, at the precise moment my daughter was born, I became her father—I was responsible. I initiated her coming into existence.
So, in the beginning (of creation) was the Word. That is, whoever the Word is, he was at the beginning. He preceded whatever the beginning might be. John continues to say that this Word was “with” (the) God [i.e. the article “the” is present in the Greek, which is at the heart of controversy among those who deny the deity of Jesus]. The Greek then reads: “the Word was with the God.” The only point I perceive being made here is that whoever the Word is, he was there in the beginning – before anything was created – together “with” the God. A distinction between the two is being made, but we must not be too quick to read anything into this distinction. On the contrary, we need to let the text, itself, tell us what it has to say.
Next, John writes that “the Word was God.” The article is absent before the word God, and this, viewed with the previous clause where the article is present with God, proves to be very controversial within the doctrine, teaching Jesus is truly God. The argument is: “God cannot be with God. This would be illogical.” Well, I believe there is more to all this than what some are trying to read into this verse. For example, what if the article were present in both clauses, wouldn’t this be an error saying God is beside himself? How, then, should John have expressed the idea that would show the Word is truly God, if this is what he meant?
I believe John’s choice to use the term, the Word, to describe Jesus, before he became man, expresses emphatically that Jesus was truly God come in the flesh. John was working with a Hebrew tradition, but most folks like to say he is drawing upon the Greek philosophical tradition of the Logos – the Greek for the Word. In the Jewish Targums, the writers often replace the name YHWH in the Hebrew with Memra, which is Aramaic for the Word, when the targumist interprets that YHWH in the text takes on a personal form. I believe that John brought this Jewish tradition into the New Testament. In fact, the targumist translates Genesis 1:27 into:
“And the Word of the Lord created man in His likeness, in the likeness of the presence of the Lord He created him, the male and his yoke-fellow He created them” (Jerusalem Targum).
“And the Word of YHWH created man in his likeness, in the likeness of YHWH, YHWH created, male and female created He them (Targum Jonathan, Genesis 1:27).
What does this mean? It seems to me that John sought to bring into the New Testament the Jewish idea of God. He is ONE, but God is more complex than what we would term a singularity. In fact, it takes two—male and female—to express God’s image properly for our understanding. I could say that I brought my daughter into this world through my wife, and without my wife no child of mine had been brought into this world. This, in a sense, would reflect what we see in John 1:1-3 and Genesis, chapter 1. God, the Father, spoke or willed the creative act and the Word brought the will of the Father into physical existence. I don’t mean to imply that God is male or female. He has no gender, but humanity, as male and female, is the image God created to point to himself. So, just as in my analogy above, my wife is no less a parent than I am and no less human than I am, so too the Word is GOD just like the God (the Father) in the third clause of John 1:1. John is saying that the Word is no less GOD than the Father is. Both share equal responsibility for and authority over creation.