In the beginning

John 1:1

In the beginning - This expression is used also in Gen_1:1. John evidently has allusion here to that place, and he means to apply to “the Word” an expression which is there applied “to God.” In both places it clearly means before creation, before the world was made, when as yet there was nothing. The meaning is: that the “Word” had an existence before the world was created. This is not spoken of the man Jesus, but of that which “became” a man, or was incarnate, Joh_1:14. The Hebrews, by expressions like this, commonly denoted eternity. Thus. the eternity of God is described Psa_90:2; “Before the mountains were brought forth, etc.;” and eternity is commonly expressed by the phrase, before the foundation of the world.” Whatever is meant by the term “Word,” it is clear that it had an existence before “creation.” It is not, then, a “creature” or created being, and must be, therefore, uncreated and eternal. There is only one Being that is uncreated, and Jesus must be therefore divine. Compare the Saviour’s own declarations respecting himself in the following places: Joh_8:58; Joh_17:5; Joh_6:62; Joh_3:13; Joh_6:46; Joh_8:14; Joh_16:28.

Was the Word - Greek, “was the λόγος Logos.” This name is given to him who afterward became “flesh,” or was incarnate (Joh_1:14 - that is, to the Messiah. Whatever is meant by it, therefore, is applicable to the Lord Jesus Christ. There have been many opinions about the reason why this name was given to the Son of God. It is unnecessary to repeat those opinions. The opinion which seems most plausible may be expressed as follows:

1. A “word” is that by which we communicate our will; by which we convey our thoughts; or by which we issue commands the medium of communication with others.

2. The Son of God may be called “the Word,” because he is the medium by which God promulgates His will and issues His commandments. See Heb_1:1-3.

3. This term was in use before the time of John.

(a) It was used in the Aramaic translation of the Old Testament, as, “e. g.,” Isa_45:12; “I have made the earth, and created man upon it.” In the Aramaic it is, “I, ‘by my word,’ have made,” etc. Isa_48:13; “mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth.” In the Aramaic, “‘By my word’ I have founded the earth.” And so in many other places.

(b) This term was used by the Jews as applicable to the Messiah. In their writings he was commonly known by the term “Mimra” - that is, “Word;” and no small part of the interpositions of God in defense of the Jewish nation were declared to be by “the Word of God.” Thus, in their Targum on Deu_26:17-18, it is said, “Ye have appointed the word of God a king over you this day, that he may be your God.”

(c) The term was used by the Jews who were scattered among the Gentiles, and especially those who were conversant with the Greek philosophy.

(d) The term was used by the followers of Plato among the Greeks, to denote the Second Person of the Trinity. The Greek term νοῦς nous or “mind,” was commonly given to this second person, but it was said that this nous was “the word” or “reason” of the First Person of the Trinity. The term was therefore extensively in use among the Jews and Gentiles before John wrote his Gospel, and it was certain that it would be applied to the Second Person of the Trinity by Christians. whether converted from Judaism or Paganism. It was important, therefore, that the meaning of the term should be settled by an inspired man, and accordingly John, in the commencement of his Gospel, is at much pains to state clearly what is the true doctrine respecting the λόγος Logos, or Word. It is possible, also, that the doctrines of the Gnostics had begun to spread in the time of John. They were an Oriental sect, and held that the λόγος Logos or “Word” was one of the “Aeones” that had been created, and that this one had been united to the man Jesus. If that doctrine had begun then to prevail, it was of the more importance for John to settle the truth in regard to the rank of the Logos or Word. This he has done in such a way that there need be no doubt about its meaning.

Was with God - This expression denotes friendship or intimacy. Compare Mar_9:19. John affirms that he was “with God” in the beginning - that is, before the world was made. It implies, therefore, that he was partaker of the divine glory; that he was blessed and happy with God. It proves that he was intimately united with the Father, so as to partake of his glory and to be appropriately called by the name God. He has himself explained it. See Joh_17:5; “And now, O Father, glorify thou we with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” See also Joh_1:18; “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” See also Joh_3:13; “The Son of man, which is in heaven.” Compare Php_2:6-7.

Was God - In the previous phrase John had said that the Word was “with God.” Lest it should be supposed that he was a different and inferior being, here John states that “he was God.” There is no more unequivocal declaration in the Bible than this, and there could be no stronger proof that the sacred writer meant to affirm that the Son of God was equal with the Father; because:

1. There is no doubt that by the λόγος Logos is meant Jesus Christ.

2. This is not an “attribute” or quality of God, but is a real subsistence, for it is said that the λόγος Logos was made flesh σάρξ sarx - that is, became a human being.

3. There is no variation here in the manuscripts, and critics have observed that the Greek will bear no other construction than what is expressed in our translation - that the Word “was God.”

4. There is no evidence that John intended to use the word “God” in an inferior sense. It is not “the Word was a god,” or “the Word was ‘like God,’” but the Word “was God.” He had just used the word “God” as evidently applicable to Yahweh, the true God; and it is absurd to suppose that he would in the same verse, and without any indication that he was using the word in an inferior sense, employ it to denote a being altogether inferior to the true God.

5. The name “God” is elsewhere given to him, showing that he is the supreme God. See Rom_9:5; Heb_1:8, Heb_1:10, Heb_1:12; 1Jn_5:20; Joh_20:28.

The meaning of this important verse may then be thus summed up:

1. The name λόγος Logos, or Word, is given to Christ in reference to his becoming the Teacher or Instructor of mankind; the medium of communication between God and man.

2. The name was in use at the time of John, and it was his design to state the correct doctrine respecting the λόγος Logos.

3. The “Word,” or λόγος Logos, existed “before creation” - of course was not a “creature,” and must have been, therefore, from eternity.

4. He was “with God” - that is, he was united to him in a most intimate and close union before the creation; and, as it could not be said that God was “with himself,” it follows that the λόγος Logos was in some sense distinct from God, or that there was a distinction between the Father and the Son. When we say that one is “with another,” we imply that there is some sort of distinction between them.

5. Yet, lest it should be supposed that he was a “different” and “inferior” being - a creature - he affirms that he was God - that is, was equal with the Father.

This is the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity:

1. That the second person is in some sense “distinct” from the first.

2. That he is intimately united with the first person in essence, so that there are not two or more Gods.

3. That the second person may be called by the same name; has the same attributes; performs the same works; and is entitled to the same honors with the first, and that therefore he is “the same in substance, and equal in power and glory,” with God.