In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made (John 1:1-3).
In the beginning…
Even to this day, thousands of years after it was written, most people know the line: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). It is the foundation of all that will follow in Scripture: God is the Creator of the universe and of mankind, and that is why everyone should heed Him and what He says.
In the first century, this text was well-known to all of the Israelites. They would tell you how, “in the beginning,” YHWH created all things. No great cosmic upheavals and battles among gods; the creation was a very powerful but orderly affair. YHWH spoke, and it was so (cf. Psalm 33:6).
As John begins his Gospel, he evokes the same language: “in the beginning…”. The mind is immediately transported back to Genesis 1:1.
Yet here, “in the beginning” was the Word. The Word was with God, yet the Word is also God (John 1:1). The Word existed before the creation did, for He was in the beginning with God (John 1:2). Furthermore, all things were made through Him– thus, nothing that exists was created apart from Him (John 1:3).
This passage is as controversial as it is powerful. Many want to make much of the use of the “Word,” in Greek, Logos, and the many different possible meanings for Logos: speech, reason, account, and so on and so forth. Others are as offended as many Jews were at the suggestion that the Word was with God and yet was God (cf. John 8:58-59); they thus want to minimize the idea that the Word was God.
Yet there is an elegant simplicity to what John has presented, just as there is elegant simplicity in the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We should not allow the controversies and the argumentation to lead us to miss the force and impact of what John is trying to say here. He intends for us to never understand the creation account in Genesis– the beginning story of mankind– in the same way ever again.
God creates by speaking, and it happens– “Let there be light,” and there was light (cf. Genesis 1:3). We are to now understand that when God “speaks,” that which God speaks is the Word, and the Word effects what God has intended. How this process works is not described and is most probably beyond our understanding; it is very challenging for humans to comprehend how that which God speaks has life and personality in and of itself, and is to be reckoned as God along with God. And yet this is how the Word is active in the creation of all things (John 1:3).
This understanding helps to melt away a lot of the controversy. Yes, there may be different meanings of the word Logos, but we can understand what John means because of the referent in the Genesis story: that which God has “said,” or communicated, is done by means of the Word. There is no justification for turning “the Word was God” into “the Word was a god”; the constitution of the Greek text simply does not allow it, and the testimony regarding the full divinity of Jesus can also be found in Colossians 1:15-17, 2:9, and in other places. That which God “spoke” was as much God as the One “speaking” it, and this understanding is designed to transform how we view not just the account of Creation but also every other time in Scripture when God “speaks.” Little wonder, then, how early Christians connected all of God’s communication with mankind to the Word, the Son of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12, Jude 1:5)!
Ultimately, however, John is setting the tone for the rest of his Gospel. The Word will be speaking to mankind again in the first century as had happened in the past; this time the Word has become flesh and speaks as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). That which Jesus says about Himself throughout the Gospel of John is to be understood in terms of the Word through whom God created all things and has communicated His message.
John is making it clear that the message of the Gospel and the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth are not some mere appendage, “update,” or “fix” to the story that had already been presented; it is the fulfillment of that story, the unveiled revelation, making sense of all that came before and demonstrating that the whole story of creation points to the creative act that took place through the Word and how the Word would redeem that which was created. God sending His Son was not an aberration in the plan; it was the plan (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11). Despite all the sin and evil in the world, God is still in control.
In the beginning, God spoke, and the Word which He spoke effected the creation. In the first century, God “spoke,” and the Word which He “spoke” effected redemption for mankind and communicated the very nature of God to mankind in bodily form (John 1:18, 23). As the Word brought forth life, so now we can only find that which is truly life by trusting in that Word. Let us follow after God our Creator and be saved!
Ethan R. Longhenry