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John 1:1-18 (web)

The Incarnation of the Son of God

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
1:2 The same was in the beginning with God.
1:3 All things were made through him.
Without him was not anything made that has been made.
1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn't overcome it.
{The word translated "overcome" (katelaben) can also be translated "comprehended."
It refers to getting a grip on an enemy to defeat him.}.

1:6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John.
1:7 The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light,
that all might believe through him.
1:8 He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light.

1:9 The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him,
and the world didn't recognize him.
1:11 He came to his own, and those who were his own didn't receive him.
1:12 But as many as received him,
to them he gave the right to become God's children,
to those who believe in his name:
1:13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God.
1:14 The Word became flesh, and lived among us.
We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

1:15 John testified about him. He cried out, saying,
"This was he of whom I said,
'He who comes after me has surpassed me, for he was before me.'"
1:16 From his fullness we all received grace upon grace.
1:17 For the law was given through Moses.
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
1:18 No one has seen God at any time.
The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.

Discussion Questions

vs 1 In the beginning of what?
What are characteristics and usages of a "word"?
How can the "Word" be with God and at the same time be God?
vs 3 Was there ever anything made which was not made through the Word?
What do people generally call the maker of all things?
vs 4,5 What are characteristics of light and how do they apply to Jesus Christ?
What does it mean that the darkness did not comprehend it? (see also vs 10)
vs 6-8 If you are a Christian, what people led you to Christ?
vs 11 Who were "his own" who did not receive him?
vs 12 What is the correlation between receiving and believing?
Which comes first "receiving and believing" or "becoming a son of God"?
vs 13 After having believed, does it take any effort on your part to become a son of God?
vs 14,17 What was characteristic of Jesus' glory more so than that of Moses?
vs 18 Many people claim to know God but who has really seen him?


The Deity of Christ

vs 1-3 John starts his gospel in a similar manner as Genesis starts off speaking of creation, God's Word, and light and darkness.
Genesis 1:
1  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2  And the earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
But whereas the Old Testament revealed the nature of God somewhat vaguely the New Testament manifests more clearly.

Eternity Past?

I would infer that in both these cases "In the beginning" refers to the beginning of creation. All the created things around us had a beginning. Even time itself must have had a beginning. For if there is an infinite amount of time before an event occurs, that event will never occur. If there were an infinite amount of time before the present, the present would never occur. But since we live in the present therefore time past must logically not be infinite. Therefore we should not speak of eternity past as if referring to time. For what existed before creation is outside of creation and more specifically outside of time. However even before time began God in His wisdom planned to redeem people to Himself. "We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." 1Co 2:7  "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time." 2Tim 1:9 "A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,  and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior." Titus 1:2,3

In the beginning of time was the Word. But the Word must have also been before the beginning. For see in Titus above that the promise was given before the beginning of time. And thus the word existed before the beginning of time. But the word was hidden and not brought to light until the incarnation and the subsequent preaching of the gospel. The Word existed before it was expressed. It was before the beginning of creation and therefore was not a part of creation, as also verse 3 implies in that all things were created through the Word, a fact which is emphasized in the additional phrase "Without him was not anything made that has been made." indicating that the Word was not itself a created thing. In eternity past the Word was God's thoughts. But as a man thinks, so he is. So also it can be said that the Word was God. In creation the Word is God's manifestation just as a man's body is a manifestation of the man.

Trinity vs. Tri-theism

However there are those who simply relegate the Word as being a part a creation completely separate from God. One argument they use is that God is one and therefore if the Word were God that would make more than one. But consider when we speak of an individual human being. We indeed say that the person is an individual. But then again the person has a spirit, soul, and body. And some come up with other various divisions, but the point is that we can speak of the plurality of the individual, which though being a paradox is not a contradiction. Who are you? Are you your body? In your funeral others will see your body but speak of you not being there. Is what you are defined by your mind, will and emotions? Or are these internal manifestations of who you are? People will hold varying opinions on these issues, but really the same kind of questions come into play as we inquire concerning the nature of God. Jesus is as God's body and as such there is no contradiction in calling him God. When we look into the sky we call "the sun" the light that comes from the sun and we call "a star" the light that comes from the star. So also we call Jesus Christ "God" as he is the light that comes from God.  "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." Heb 1:3

With God?

But is there not a logical contradition in verse 1 when it speaks of the Word being both with God and at the same time being God? You cannot logically be with someone and be someone at the same time. To be with someone means that the person you are with is someone other than yourself. But John chose to express the initimacy between the Word and God in this paradoxical manner. But for this to be a paradox and not a contradiction I would say that the first usage of the word "God" cannot be exactly the same as the second usage of the word "God". The Word was with God the Father, whom is most frequently simply referred to as "God", and the Word was a part of the Godhead which traditionally has been referred to as the Trinity.

Incorrect Interpretations

Some lacking knowledge of the greek have misinterpreted and indeed mistranslated what is written. The Jehovah Witness translation of verse 1 for example is incorrect. Here are the different ways the verse might have read if John wanted to expressed such meanings. The 6th is what John actually said.
1. ho logos en ho theos "the word was the god" logos and theos 
are equivalent
2. ho theos en ho logos "the god was the word" logos and theos
are equivalent
(same as in 1)
3.  ho logos en theos "the word was god" logos was a god or 
divine being
4. ho logos en theios "the word was divine" Another way of saying 
that the word was a 
god or divine being 
subject to theos.
5. ho logos theos en "the word god was" logos has the nature of theos 1Jn 4:8,16
Jn 17:17
Heb 12:29
6. theos en ho logos "what God was, 
 the word was"
logos and theos 
had the same nature
John 1:1

If John was trying to say that Jesus was a god or divine being, as the Jehovah Witnesses would have us believe, then he would have used #3 or #4. Since John didn't use these forms, the Jehovah Witness translation of this verse (known as "the New World Translation") is incorrect with respect to its translation of this verse. Nor is John saying that the Word is the same as the Father represented in #1. For there are Modalists who believe that Jesus was God the Father, being simply another mode of God. They are also mistaken.

Jesus' Nature

What John is saying that before the incarnation God and "The Word" had the same nature. But notice the flow though this section, that the Word took on an additional nature - that of a man, whom we call Jesus Christ. Heb 2:14 "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity." Php 2:6,7 "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Before his incarnation the man Jesus Christ did not exist. What existed was the Word.

Jesus as Creator

vs 3 speaks of all things being created through the Word whom we now know as Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews in speaking of Jesus applies the verse to him which says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands." Heb 1:10 in which he quotes Psalm 102:25, speaking of Jesus as Lord and Creator. But what is also interesting is that the verse just prior to this it says in Psalm 102:24 "Do not take me away, O my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations." affirming Jesus as God as also Hebrews goes on to say, "Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything." Heb 3:3,4 And thus since all things were created through Jesus, we honor Jesus as God. John adds the phrase "without him was not any thing made that was made" so that as to explicit exclude Christ from the creation. If there was anything that God ever made, it was made through the LORD Jesus Christ.

vs 4 Being the light of men means that he enlightens us through our minds and consciences so as to guide us in the truth to a right relationship with God.

vs 5 Darkness refers to this world of sin in which people live their lives in accordance with incorrect, dark and deceptive ideas because their minds and conscience have been corrupted by sin. But the light overcomes the darkness. Some reckon light and darkness as equal but opposite like the oriental concept of Ying and Yang. Some reckon God and Satan on an equal and opposite level. But such is not the case. For light always overcomes darkness. You can fill a dark room with unlit candles and yet just one candle which is lit will overcome the darkness of all the others. As the Bible speaks of them light and darkness are certainly not equal and opposite. Darkness flees from light, but light never flees from darkness. Jesus speaks of this in John 3:19,20 "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."

John the Baptist

vs 6-8 For those unfamiliar with the gospel, the John he is referring to here is not himself but rather John the Baptist - the cousin of Jesus who testified of him. John the Baptists is likened to Elijah in the prophecy given by the angel of him in Luke 1:17 "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-- to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." People need to be prepared for the Lord and that is partly our job. For just as with John God uses us to prepare people for the Lord.

vs 10-11 Why is it that when God became a man the world didn't recognize him? In fact the Jewish people whom he had imparted the Scriptures also didn't recognize him, but for the minority of believers among the Jews. But then again this may not be so surprising. For the existence of God is clearly seen from the things which have been made, and yet the world refused to recognize God as God, but instead replace God with other things. Rejecting God results in a corruption of the heart and mind leading to further blindness. Thus when God enter this sinful world he walked among the spiritually blind.

vs 12 But there were those who came to believe in Him, who through cooperation with the Holy Spirit develop spiritual insight a salvific faith in Christ after which they are given the right to become sons of God. There is a generally sense in which all people can be said to be children of God, but other than in Acts 17 this generic sense is seldom used in the New Testament. "Sons of God" or "children of God" are a specific group of people composed of all who have put their faith in Christ and were born-again as Jesus speaks of in John 3.

vs 13 Being born of God is what theologically is known as a Monergistic process. It is something accomplished completely apart from human effort. Coming to saving faith in Christ is a Synergistic process involving cooperation and is the prerequisite to be qualified to be born of God. But having been qualified one is then born of God automatically completely apart from human effort. Birth is different than adoption. Just as with physical birth, spiritual birth is a one time process and occurs at a point in time after which one is reckoned to have been born of God. It imparts a new nature which also affects a person's behavior. (1John 3:9,10) This as opposed to adoption which imparts only a change in status. But of course being born of God also imparts a change in status as well as a new nature. For children are qualified to receive their Father's inheritance.

vs 14-17  The primary characteristics John points out of the Word are those of grace and truth. "Grace" is God's character quality of freely giving to the undeserving. Grace is different than Law in that Law obligates God to reward or punish. Law involves justice. But with Grace God is under no such obligation. But in order to exercise grace, the requirements of justice must first be satisfied. For there can be no forgiveness without an appropriate substitutionary sacrifice. But having fulfilled the requirements of the Law through Christ, God can now freely give the forgiveness of sins to whom He choses.

vs 18 Although formerly God spoke through prophets, yet no one had previously seen God in the intimate sense that Jesus had. As such if people want to know God then they should come to Jesus, and all views of God must be compared with Jesus' view. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6 And "no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Luke 10:22

The Son of God

vs 18 When did Jesus become the Son of God? It is true that as the Word he existed from eternity past. But I would argue that the title "Son of God" was not imparted to him until the incarnation.  It says in Hebrews 1:5 referring to Jesus, For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? "Today" indicates a point in time when the Word became known as the Son of God. And therefore he couldn't have been "the Son of God" from eternity past, even though existing from eternity past. For he was begotten, not created.

 NIV version used in comments
The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources