THE WORD FROM GOD

 

Week of February 4, 2007

 

Bible Passages:  John 1:1-9,14-17.

 

Biblical Truth: Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Creator, became human and in His humanity retained the fullness of His deity.

 

Jesus is God: John 1:1.

 

[1]  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [NASU]

 

It has been said that understanding the relationship of the Word to the Father is the key by which the teaching of this gospel must be interpreted. John is writing about a new beginning, a new creation, so he uses words which recall the first creation. He soon goes on to use other words which loom large in Genesis 1, such as life, light and darkness. Genesis 1 described God’s first creation. John’s theme is God’s new creation. The continuity between the two creations is the Logos. The Word was in the beginning means that He was before all else. John is affirming that the Word existed before creation, which makes it clear that the Word was not created.

 

LOGOS: The word might be thought of as remaining within a man, when it denoted his thought or reason. Or it might refer to the word going forth from the man, when it denoted the expression of his thought, his speech. As a philosophical term, Logos denoted something like the world-soul, the soul of the universe. It was an all-pervading principle, the rational principle of the universe. It was a creative energy. All things in one sense came from it. In another, men derived their wisdom from it. It was the supreme principle of the universe. It was the force that originated and permeated and directed all things. When John used the term Logos, then, he used a term that would be widely recognized among the Greeks. In his use of Logos, John is cutting clean across one of the fundamental Greek ideas. The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches and joys and fears with serene divine lack of feeling. John’s idea of the Logos conveys exactly the opposite idea. John’s Logos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved. The Logos speaks of God’s coming where we are, taking our nature upon Himself, entering the world’s struggle, and out of this agony winning men’s salvation. More important for our understanding of this Gospel in general and of its use of this term in particular is its Jewish background. The opening words “in the beginning” compel a comparison with Gen. 1:1, while “the Word” irresistibly turns our attention to the repeated “and God said” of the opening chapter of the Bible. The Word is God’s creative Word [1:3]. Throughout the Old Testament the Word of the Lord is thought of as an effective agent for the accomplishing of the divine will. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made [Ps. 33:6]. When God speaks He does something. His word is a divine action. There can be little doubt that the Hebrew concept of word as deed plays a major role in understanding the meaning of the Logos. In Old Testament history and prophecy the “debar Yahweh” (word of Yahweh) always meant Yahweh’s activity in creation, revelation and redemption. John was using a term which, with various shades of meaning, was in common use everywhere. He could reckon on all men catching his essential meaning. The Logos, alike for Jew and Gentile represents the ruling fact of the universe, and represents that fact as the self-expression of God. The Jew will remember that “by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made”; the Greeks will think of the rational principle of which all natural laws are particular expressions. Both will agree that this Logos is the starting-point of all things. This, then, is the background to John’s thought. But it is not his thought itself. He had a richer, deeper, fuller idea than that of any of his predecessors. For him the Word was not a principle, but a living Being and the source of life; not a personification, but a Person and that Person divine. The Word was nothing less than God.

The Word points to the truth that it is of the very nature of God to reveal Himself. The Word of God is His thought uttered so that we can understand it. But this revelation is not static. It is more than the revelation of certain truths about God. The knowledge of God that the Word brings is not merely information. It is life. The Word is creative.

 

Was is the imperfect of the Greek verb (eimi) “to be” which conveys continuous existence. This is the verb used in the “I am” statements. When continuous existence is not intended another Greek verb (ginomai) is used. See John 8:58 for a clear contrast between these two forms of the verb to be.

 

With God indicates the two ideas of accompaniment and relationship. The word “with” has the sense of “face to face with.” The emphasis is on the closeness of the relationship, hence close proximity, friendship, intimacy. The importance of the thought is shown by its being repeated in verse 2. It indicates the Word’s personal character in relation to the Father. Not only did the Word exist in the beginning, but He existed in the closest possible connection with the Father. The expression also indicates that the Word and God are not identical.

 

The high point is reached in the third affirmation: the Word was God. All that may be said about God may fitly be said about the Word. John is not merely saying that there is something divine about Jesus. He is affirming that He is God, and doing so emphatically as we see from the word order in the Greek (God was the Word).

 

Jesus is the Creator: John 1:2-3.

 

[2]  He was in the beginning with God. [3]  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  [NASU]

 

The self-communication of God occurs first of all in creation, and then in salvation. From the relationship of the Word to the Father John turns to His relationship to creation. Everything owes its existence to the Word. A feature of Johannine style is the enunciation of a proposition in positive form, and then immediately its repetition in the negative. There is a change of tense. Came into being (aorist) regards creation in its totality, as one act. But has come into being is perfect, and this conveys the thought of the continuing existence of created things. All things refers to the infinite detail of creation, rather than to creation as a whole. Came into being expresses the passage from nothingness into being and the unfolding of a divine order. Here the distinction is between the absolute being expressed by was of 1:1 and the coming into being of creation. Through Him implies a different relation to creation on the part of the Father and the Son. The perfect tense indicates the continuance of things created; so that the full idea is, ‘that which has been made and exists.’

 

Jesus is the True Light: John 1:4-9.

 

[4]  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. [5]  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. [6]  There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. [7]  He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. [8]  He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. [9]  There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.  [NASU]

 

[4-5]  John moves from creation in general to the creation of life. Life in John characteristically refers to eternal life. Here, however, the term must be taken in its broadest sense. It is only because there is life in the Logos that there is life in anything on earth at all. John moves easily between the thoughts of life and light. He links life and light with Christ. He is preparing the way for the thought which he will develop throughout his Gospel, that Jesus is the life-bringer and light-bearer. In Genesis 1:3 the first thing God says is Let there be light. Similarly in this chapter the Word is the source of light. It is the function of light to shine precisely in the darkness, to oppose darkness, to dispel darkness. Note that in verse 5, John changes the tense to the present. The light is continually in action. But with the next verb he switches back to the aorist indicating that at some particular point in time the darkness did not overcome the light. John is probably referring to the Cross.

 

[6-8]  Why would the gospel writer include this reference to John the Baptist in the prologue. Possibly as a reaction to a movement by some of John’s followers that gave him more importance than Jesus. One of the aims of this Gospel plainly was to show how clearly and consistently John had pointed men to Jesus. If, as seems probable, the author of the Gospel came from the group originally centered round John, his interest in his former teacher would be natural. The word rendered came is the same word used three times in verse 3. The use of this word must be held to point a contrast between Jesus and John. Jesus was in the beginning. John came into existence. But though John’s place was a subordinate one it was an important one. John was sent from God. The perfect tense indicates the permanent character of his mission. From the divine commission we come to the actual work of the Baptist. He came for witness. Witness is one of the key concepts of this Gospel. This is emphasized, first by drawing attention to the man, and then by the twofold reference to witness. In the Synoptic Gospels, John the Baptist’s preaching of repentance and his practice of baptism are noted. In this Gospel his one function is to bear witness to Jesus. For this writer John’s witness is what matters. He came for witness and nothing else that he did can be compared in importance to this. This emphasis on testimony in this Gospel should not be overlooked. There is a legal air about it. Testimony is a serious matter and it is required to substantiate the truth of a matter. It is clear that our author wants us to take what he writes as reliable. He is insistent that there is good evidence for the things he sets down. Witness establishes the truth. This bearing of witness was not an end in itself. Behind it was the purpose that all might believe through him. Believe is not in the continuous tense, and this is perhaps significant. John came to bring men to decide, to make the definitive act of faith. Just as he brings out the true greatness of John so does he make clear his limitations. John was not the light but was the witness to the light.

 

[9]  Attention is now fastened on the incarnation. Two points are specially emphasized. The one is the astonishing fact that the Word of God, true God as He is, yet took upon Him man’s nature. The other is the even more astonishing fact that when He did so men would have nothing to do with Him. John is concerned that we should miss neither the good news of the incarnation of God, nor the tragedy of man’s rejection of God. John is speaking about the Word as the true light, and about the illumination He gives to men. Other lights were flickers of the truth but Christ is the genuine light. There is nothing unreal or shadowy about the light which is Christ. His giving light to every man is not closely defined. The use of the singular every rather than the plural may be meant to indicate every man individually rather than all men in the mass. There is a sense in which the Word gives light only to those who believe. But there is a general illumination of mankind. God has revealed something of Himself to all men, sufficient at least for them to be blameworthy when they take the wrong way instead of the right way (Romans 1:20). John attributes this general illumination to the activity of the Word.

 

Jesus is Full of Grace and Truth: John 1:14-17.

 

[14]  And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. [15]  John testified about Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'" [16]  For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. [17]  For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.  [NASU]

 

[14]  Now comes the most concise statement of the incarnation. Became is in the aorist tense, and indicates action at a point of time. Flesh is a strong way of referring to human nature. John is clear on the deity of the Word. But he is just as clear on the genuineness of His humanity. Notice that this is the first time in the Gospel that John indicates that the Word and Jesus are to be taken as the same. The Word dwelt among us which is the verb signifying to pitch one’s tent. That John means us to recall God’s presence in the tabernacle in the wilderness seems clear from the immediate reference to glory, for glory was associated with the tabernacle. Glory came to be linked with the Shekinah, a word which means dwelling, i.e. God’s dwelling among His people. The verb saw is invariably used in John of seeing with the bodily eye. It is not used of visions. The repetition of the word glory emphasizes its reality. Only begotten means only or unique. It shows that Jesus is God’s Son in a unique way. No other is or can be the Son of God as He is. John uses the word grace three times in his prologue but not again in his Gospel. Grace basically denotes that which causes joy; it comes to signify good-will or kindness often with the notion that the favor shown is undeserved. With grace John links truth. It is plain that for John, truth is many-sided and many-splendored. When he speaks of the incarnate Word as full of grace and truth he is pointing us to the fact that truth and the complete reliability of God are bound up with one another. Truth as he sees it is not basically something that can be known apart from God. The Word is the revelation of truth as well as grace.

 

[15]  The use of the present tense indicates the continuance of the witness of John. The Evangelist thinks of the Baptist’s voice as still sounding. He existed before me is an unusual and emphatic expression. It denotes not merely relative priority but absolute priority. The Word was not only former but first. The pre-existence of Jesus shows his superiority.

 

[16-17]  Verse 14 described the glory of God manifest in the incarnate Word as full of grace and truth. Picking up on the term, John says that it is from this fullness that we have received grace upon grace. It appears from verse 17 that the meaning of grace upon grace is that the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ replaces the law which is understood to be an earlier display of grace. The covenant of law is seen as a gracious gift from God, now replaced by a further gracious gift, the grace and truth embodied in Jesus Christ. The glow of the passage and the burden of the book as a whole magnify the fresh grace that has come in Jesus Christ. That grace is necessarily greater then the grace of the law whose function, in John’s view, was primarily to anticipate the coming of the Word.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      What was the Father’s role in creation; the Son’s role? See also 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:1-2. What then is the function of the Word in the Godhead?

 

2.      Why does John start his Gospel with creation language: “in the beginning,” “were made,” “life,” “light”?

 

3.      Compare 1:1 to 1:14. What is the Word’s essential nature in each verse? Who is the Word “with” in each verse? What is astounding about this transition?

 

4.      In John’s Gospel “truth” occurs 25 times and “true” 23 times. Why do you think John emphasizes truth? How can you live more fully by the truth?

 

 

References:

The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.