Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

13. The Word (John 1:1-5)

Apart from the palpably erroneous Trinitarian view of this familiar passage the interpretation most commonly heard follows more or less these lines:

“The Word” is the eternal Divine Purpose in Christ, foreknown and planned from the very beginning. It was according to this eternal Purpose that all things in the universe came into existence. It embodies the growing light of God’s Revelation to men (through the Law and the Prophets), and came eventually to its fulness in the person of Christ, the Word now made flesh.

An Interpretation with Difficulties

Quite apart from the fact that this is an interpretation almost impossible to defend against the onslaughts of a skilful Trinitarian, there are far too many weaknesses and unexplained difficulties involved in the acceptance of it. In fact, when it comes to details, especially in the Greek text, there is nothing but vagueness and obscurity.

This interpretation of the Word has to fall back for support on such remote passages as Ps. 147:15,18 and 107: 20, Pr. 8:22,23. These, and no others. John’s own usage-and this should prevail - is quite different. It should be very evident from this list that in the New Testament the normal meaning of logos is word. To insist on any other is precarious. Yet the commonly-heard interpretation of John 1:1 calls for a confident dependence on a remote and very occasional meaning of logos: “reason, purpose, intent” (see the foregoing list which has 4 such examples out of 300).
“The Word was with God”. The vague (and pointless!) significance attached to this phrase gives no value whatever, or else a wrong value, to the Greek preposition “with”.
It is necessary to insist on the reading: “all things were made by it (the impersonal divine Purpose) . . .That which hath been made was life in it...”, and so on. Logically, until one comes to “the Word was made flesh” in v.14, there can be no allusion to the personal Jesus, and “life in It (the Purpose)” is a poor insipid substitute for “life in Christ”, the normal New Testament expression everywhere else.
The references in v. 6,7 to John the Baptist require that v.7 should also allude to Jesus the Man, not to Jesus the Idea. Verses 11,12 similarly require to be read with reference to Jesus the Man. How then does verse 14 “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” come in as indicating the climax of Divine Revelation, when clear references have already been made to Jesus the Man?
To translate logos as “purpose” or “idea” is to mistranslate it. Young’s Concordance lists the following:



things to say









A lot of pretentious nonsense has been talked about the relevance of John’s logos doctrine to the heresy of Gnosticism. There is no connection between the two. John wrote his gospel, and Paul his epistles, a full century before this patch-work of philosophical humbug was foisted on the Christian church. In the New Testament the great enemy of Truth is Judaism, and not any kind of philosophy. The case for this is overwhelming.
Most important criticism of all. This approach to John 1 does not allow the apostle to be his own interpreter, but time after time (as will be seen by and by) it imposes on his words a meaning quite foreign to his own usage.

It is by this method-finding out how John himself uses the expressions which he employs—that a more exact and much more satisfying understanding of his Logos theme is to be arrived at. If it be investigated what are the precise meanings of such terms as the Word, the beginning, with God, all things, world, the Light, as they occur in John’s writings, the results ought to lead to a fairly exact idea of what John meant in his prologue. It is the more necessary to insist on this method because, as is fully recognized by all students of the New Testament, the apostle John has an idiom all his own. He frequently uses words and phrases with meanings quite different from those found elsewhere in Scripture.

The Word is Jesus

Thus, John refers to The Word in three other places, and in each case his allusion is to Jesus the Man. “His name is called the Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1); that is, they heard his preaching, they saw his miracles, they looked upon him crucified, and they handled him when risen from the dead (Lk. 24:39). “Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw” (Rev. 1:2). Even this passage, which at first sight seems to require a different meaning for “the word of God” lines up with the others when it is realised that this is the first of a series of triads which meet the reader in Revelation 1 (compare verses 4b, 5a, 7). In fact, “the testimony of Jesus and all things that he saw” is the exact equivalent of 1 John 1:2.

The tentative conclusion concerning “the Word” in John 1:1 would therefore appear to be that it means Jesus the Man, and not Jesus the Idea or Purpose.

Further investigation confirms this conclusion.

The Beginning

The identity of the expression: “In the beginning” with Genesis 1:1 has led many to assume that John 1:1 refers to the beginning of the visible creation. But a careful use of the concordance reveals that out of 16 other instances where John speaks of “the beginning”, in no single case does he allude to Genesis 1:1. Admittedly, in two of them he refers to Genesis, but in both instances (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8) the allusion is to the serpent. This, however, is Genesis 3 and not the beginning of creation, when all material things were made by the word of God: “And God said...”

It is impressive to observe that all other occurrences of “the beginning” in John’s writings have to do with the beginning of the ministry of Jesus or the beginning of discipleship or some related idea. A few examples:

“And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (Jn.15:27).

“And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you” (Jn. 16:4).

‘Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning” (Jn. 8:25).

“For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him” (Jn. 6:64). “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning” (1 Jn. 2:7). “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 Jn. 3:11).
This list should be conclusive. John 1:1 is speaking about the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. Hence, appropriately, the immediate reference to the Baptist: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John” (v.6), a reference which in the traditional exposition is badly out of place.

Mark’s gospel is now seen to have exactly the same approach: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face” (Mk. 1:1,2). And in Luke’s introduction also: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses-and-ministers of the Word” (Lk. 1:1,2). Note here also, that, as in John, “the Word” must be Jesus; the phrase “eyewitnesses and ministers” requires this.

John 1 and Genesis 1

It may be urged that the very similarity between John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 demands that they be allowed to interpret each other. Since Genesis 1:1 is about the beginning of this creation, ought not John 1:1 to be so read also?

There can, of course, be no doubt that John intended his allusion to Genesis to be recognized, but all the evidence already marshalled points to the conclusion that what he sought to stress was this: Jesus was the Beginning of a New Creation; and in the spiritual realm God has worked on similar principles to those which marked His earlier creative work in the material sphere. In other words, John intends his readers to trace a parallel between the material creation (of Genesis 1) and the spiritual creation consisting of men and women made new in Christ.

There can be no doubt that the same kind of thinking is traceable in other parts of the New Testament (Col. 1:15-18; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 1:23; Heb. 1:2,10-12). The same idea is very probably implicit in the way in which Luke introduces the Greek word for “making a beginning” (in ch. 3:23) in a way that is almost untranslatable and which may even be ungrammatical. And also in Acts 1:1, where Luke employs a phrase from Genesis 2:3 LXX.

“With God”-How?

Back to John 1:1: “... and the Word was with God”. This Greek preposition is one which normally carries the idea of “facing towards” or “moving towards”. Out of a hundred occurrences in John’s gospel, there is not another where this preposition is translated “with”. The “eternal Divine Intention” thesis can make no sense at all of this phrase, for how can a divine Idea be “God-ward”? The notion is at best a misty one, an unworthy hazy enunciation of a hazy bit of unbiblical philosophy. Much more sensibly, Dr Thomas has the terse comment: “Here is companionship” (Eur. 1.90). “Pros implies not merely existent alongside of but personal intercourse” (Exp. Gk. Test.).

Instead, apply the expression to Jesus, and immediately there is seen to be a satisfying precision and fulness of meaning: In all his days Jesus was “with God” in that he lived a God-ward life, fully, completely, absolutely. And of him only could this be said; of him, in the very beginning of his days (v.2) and thenceforward without lapse of any kind.

No Definite Article

“And the Word was God.” Here the Trinitarian falls down by failing to observe that in the original the word “God” is without the definite article which it normally carries in New Testament Greek. The first time the word “God” comes in this verse, it has the article; the second time it is without it.

The general effect of this loss of article is to weaken the meaning. An interesting example traceable in the English version is in Pilate’s inscription over the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”; whereupon the chief priests said: “Write not, The King of the Jews”; but that he said, I am King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19,21). They sought to dilute the force of the inscription in two ways-by adding ‘he said”, and by omitting the article.

A neglected verse

Verse 2 appears to be needlessly repetitious, and accordingly the commentators give it scant attention: “The same was in the beginning with God.”

Two points at least are worth spending time on. The Greek pronoun translated “the same” comes no less than 44 times in John’s writings with reference to Jesus, the personal Jesus.

Also, the emphasis here clearly links the God-ward Christ with “the beginning”. So it seems not unlikely that there is here an indirect allusion to the Lord’s baptism in the beginning of his ministry, thus matching (in characteristic idiom) the narratives of the synoptists. There is the same God-ward emphasis in Mt. 3:16,17.

Consequently, then, “the Word was God’ declares the divinity of Christ, not his deity. And, accordingly, Moffat translates: “the Word was divine”, a translation with which no good Christadelphian need quarrel.

“All things” in the New Creation

Besides the words “in the beginning” (v.1) the other main reason for seeking a “cosmic” interpretation of this passage with reference to a timeless pre-historic Purpose of God in Christ has been the emphatic assertion of verse 3: “All things were made by him: and without him was not anything made.”

On the face of it this verse seems to demand an application to the Creation of Genesis 1, and accordingly it becomes a stronghold of the Trinitarian exegesis. But the Creation spoken of here is not the material creation of Genesis, but the New Creation in Christ. The Apostle John is emphasizing the powerful and instructive parallel between the two. Once this is realised, these words beloved of orthodoxy cease to be a weapon of misuse.

Nor is the point just made a case of pitting one opinion against another. Full demonstration is possible that no other view is tenable. Application of these words to the literal material creation is not one of two possible interpretations; it is definitely wrong.

First, let it be noted that the RV margin of verse 4a reads: “That which hath been made is life in him.” For full vindication of this as the correct translation the reader is referred to J.C.’s note in The Christadelphian for January 1957. Thus the creation referred to here is “Life in Him”-the New Creation.

This detail in the immediate context of the words under consideration should be decisive by itself. But an examination of the use of the expression “all things” in John’s gospel puts the issue beyond further argument. The reference is not to the ‘all things” of the visible universe—sun, stars, mountains, seas, trees, animals-but to the achievements of Christ in the spiritual realm: the redemption of men and women to be new creatures in Him. This is the sublimest act of God. This is God’s last Word.

No lack of examples

A few examples out of many which might be adduced:

“The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (3:35)

“For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth” (5:20); cp. the next verse: raising the dead and quickening them; and observe the language of creation in v.17: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands...” (13:3).

“All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine (i.e. the teaching concerning Jesus, v.14), and shall show it unto you” (16:15).

“Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee”

(17: 7) Observe here how the “all things” is restricted by the phrase that follows: “And all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them (i.e. in the disciples, the redeemed)” (17:10).

“To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things,, even we unto him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, even we through him” (1 Cor. 8:6).
Thus it is possible to take John’s words in verse 3 in an almost literal sense: All things (in the

New Creation) have been made through Jesus, the Word of God. But then, why a neuter and not masculine plural? Probably with reference to the various significant features of the New Life in

Christ— Baptism, the Love Feast and Breaking of Bread, Holy Spirit gifts, and so on. Also, the absence of a definite article in this phrase implies each thing considered separately; each springs from Christ, and looks to Christ for its meaning; compare: “Without me (s.w. 1:3) ye can do nothing” (15:5).

Again, the phrase ‘made by him” (literally: “became through him”) carefully avoids the words “make” and “create” which dominate Gen. 1, so as to steer interpretation away from reference to that beginning.

“Life in him”-or “by means of him”-hides from most readers another subtle allusion back to Genesis. This word Zee, which in John always means spiritual life, is the very name which Adam gave to his wife (Gen. 3:20 LXX). “He called her Life who had brought in death; because he had now tasted a better life in the promise of the woman’s seed” (John Lightfoot). Absolutely right! It was in this way that Adam, and Eve also (4:1), were justified by faith. But now the apostle very neatly stresses that the promised salvation is Life in Him (the Seed of the woman), and not in her.

This Life is the Light not just of Jews but of men, without regard to race or status.

“The Light (of the gospel) shineth- present -, tense!-in darkness.” Again, the thought of the passage takes the reader back to Genesis, when darkness blanketed the whole world until God said: “Let there be Light”. But what Light could this be before any sign of sun, moon, or stars? The word “shineth” supplies a clue, for the New Testament uses it often to indicate a manifestation of Shekinah Glory (e.g. Mt. 24:27,30; 1:20, 2:7; Mk. 16:9). Such an interpretation is also suggested by the simple fact that the natural light-Day-divides itself from natural darkness-Night. The fact that “God divided. . .” encourages the reader to look for further meaning.

Now, with an eye on this, John insists that the Light of Christ was a Shekinah Glory shining in the gospel, a Glory not to be obscured by the darkness of a Judaism lacking all sign of a Shekinah: “the darkness apprehended it not.”

Men who loved darkness rather than Light were unable either to grasp the meaning of the message or to take it over or to overpower or extinguish it, although (note the past tense!) a determined attempt had already been made when they seized Jesus and put him to death. Nevertheless, the victory of the Jews was, in fad, their defeat, as the resurrection of Jesus was to prove.

Our Lord’s Human Nature

The question arises: If indeed these opening verses of John 1 have reference to the personal

Jesus right from verse 1, how is verse 14 to be understood? Does not “the Word made flesh” refer to the birth of Jesus, and does not this allusion come in most inappropriately if verses 1-13 have already been written about him?

The first answer to this objection consists of a challenge to expound verses 1-13 detail by detail, with reference to an impersonal Logos. It just cannot be done. The first five verses become nebulous and near to nonsense. The pointed mention of the ministry of John the Baptist (v.6-8)is out of place. And “to them that believe on his name” becomes an insult to the intelligence if reference to an impersonal Purpose or Idea is attempted.

A further answer is that “made flesh” refers not to the birth but to the nature of Christ. A study of uses of the word “flesh” in the New Testament shows that it is a normal synonym for unregenerate human nature. Thus when John declares: “the word was made flesh”, he is emphasizing that Jesus came with ordinary human nature, subject to the normal weaknesses and temptations of human nature. “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God”, declares John peremptorily. And current (Christadelphian) “spirits” who fail by this very test need the same drastic exposure.

There is, however, a massive distinction to be drawn between Jesus and the rest of men, says John. The inherent ineradicable flaws in human nature—pride, selfishness, impiety, lust and all the rest-are ever found in men. Bring them to the Light, and the Light makes manifest. But in Jesus-”we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And this in a man who was flesh!

Notes: John1: 1-5

In the beginning. No article in Gk. But if the meaning here were intended to be identical, and not parallel, with Gen. 1:1, the article would surely be necessary. “The period of the ministry of Jesus and especially its opening incidents, and also the time of the first emergence of faith in Jesus, are all properly described as the Beginning” (Hoskyns).

The Word. The use of Logos as a title for Jesus is not restricted to the writings of John. Besides Mk. 1:1,2; Lk. 1:1,2 there are also:Heb.4:12;Rom. 10:8; 1 Pet. l:23;Jas. 1: 18; Acts 19: 20.

There is certainly no reference to Greek philosophy or any form of Gnosticism, such is unthinkable in the writings of a man like John. If there were, what connection would this prologue have with the rest of the gospel? John’s gospel is Jewish through and through (see Study 14).This fact is decisive.

John Lighfoot suggests a parallel with Targum usage; e.g. “And Moses brought forth the people (at Sinai) to meet the Word of the Lord” (Ex. 19:17). And in Gen. 26:3, for “I will be with thee”, Targum has: “My Word shall be thy help”; and many such examples. Can it be doubted that in such passages allusion is intended to the angel of the Lord? In these places the rabbis had no use for a vague divine “Purpose”.

With God. A few examples out of a great many: Jn. 1:29; 3:20; 6:17,35,68. In the light of Jn. 1:17,18, the same phrase is specially significant in Ex. 18:19; 19:21,24; 24:2; 32:30.

With God. In 2 Cor. 5:18-21 the article is omitted (as here) in v. 19,21, but is present in the other verses.
All things. With reference to the new Creation, observe how Jn. 20:22, 1 echo Gen. 2:7; 1:5. Consider also Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; Rev.4;ll. 5. The light ...the darkness. In idea, if not in fact, John is looking to Rev. 21:23,25.
The light. . .the darkness. In idea, if not in fact, John is looking to Rev. 21:23,25.

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