Foundational Framework Part 43 - The Word


Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The glory of God is the centerpiece and goal of all existence.
God’s glory is maximally realized in the promised, coming Kingdom.

With 400 years of silence, YHWH once again introduces Himself into history, providing the Jewish people, and the world, with a new dose of special revelation. This time, YHWH has manifested Himself in a form that was not previously known, and yet all too familiar to everyone that would encounter Him. John the Apostle, who was selected to write five books under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unfolds this new revelation, seeking to capture the weight of what YHWH was doing unlike any of the other Gospel writers. This prologue to the Gospel of John summarizes the entire revelation of Jesus Christ as found in the rest of the account, but chooses to do so with an emphasis on the spiritual, philosophical, and ethical implications of God in the flesh. This teaches us a fundamental lesson that the world has completely overlooked: 


John 1:1-5. It is no coincidence that the beginning of John’s Gospel account and the first words of the book of Genesis are the same. If one were to consider it carefully, we would actually conclude that John 1:1 comes before Genesis 1:1 in regards to the chronological record. With Genesis, Moses begins with a point in history, being the initial creation over six days’ time. With John 1:1, the reader is taken backwards into the eternal, before time began, before angels were, and before creation was spoken into existence. In this era of the eternal past, the “Word” is said to have already been there previous to our conception of when this pre-time marker was laid. In other words, think back as far as you can to before the moment when YHWH spoke the world into existence (Gen 1:1-28) or even when the celestial beings (angels and demons) were created by YHWH, of whom were witnesses of the creation event (Job 38:4-7). However, far back that your mind can conceive, the “Word” was already there and had been there forever, eternally. Chronologically speaking, John 1:1 is the beginning of everything.

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John does not mention any genealogies, choosing to focus on the divine origins of the “Word” instead. By using the word “origins,” we do not mean beginnings, as if the “Word” had a starting point, but it is a point given for our sake as the readers. From the very start, John is emphasizing the deity and eternality of Jesus. 

He is being described by John as the “Word,” which has incredible implications, starting first with the Jewish understanding. This Greek word is “Logos,” which carries a twofold usage for speaking and for thinking, but Thayer adds, “the personal (hypostatic) wisdom and power in union with God, his minister in the creation and government of the universe, the cause of all the world’s life both physical and ethical, which for the procurement of man’s salvation put on human nature in the person of Jesus the Messiah and shone forth conspicuously from his words and deeds.”[1]Derickson notes that “John’s use of ‘Word’ in the Gospel prologue more likely expressed the Old Testament concept of God’s Word in creation, revelation, and salvation,”[2]including redemption; all being themes that were initially introduced in the first half of Genesis (Gen 1-22) and have now found their fulfillment in the time that John is writing about. BDAG provides the understanding for “Logos” as “the independent personified expression of God.”[3]

When a Christian thinks of the Word, oftentimes the creation account comes to mind because of how the ages were formed (Psalm 33:6; Heb 11:3). This is precisely John’s direction in John 1:3 immediately following this statement. Additionally, the Word has bearing throughout the Gospel of John being that which is spoken truthfully by God. For instance, John 17:17 states, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” The Word of God has the ability to set individuals apart for holiness, service, etc. It is the Word that gives an opportunity for people to believe in Christ and be saved (John 4:39, 41; 5:24, 38, 47; 6:63, 68; 15:3; 17:8, 20). It is the Word that is used in verifying prophecy fulfilled in the first century times during the events of Jesus’ life (John 2:22; 12:38; 15:25; 18:9, 32). Who Jesus is and what Jesus spoke are clearly displayed as inseparable from one another and inseparable from YHWH (John 3:34; 7:17; 8:26, 28, 38, 45, 46; 12:49, 50; 14:10). 

For the Hellenistic mindset, the “logos” ordered all of existence.[4]Lovelady defines the Greek understanding as “the rational principleor impersonal energywhich was responsible for the founding and organization of the world.”[5]While the pagan mind may slip into a materialistic rendering of this concept as we have seen with the Greek gods, the “Word” was different, being preexistent, and now manifested in a fleshly form. This is something that was unthinkable in Greek mythology, which largely considering human beings of no concern or consequence in regards to the gods like Zeus and Hermes. 

If we were to try and sum up the implications of what is meant when John writes that Jesus is the “Word,” we might conclude that Jesus Christ is everything that YHWH has ever wanted to say to the world (See also Col 2:3). All previous revelation of the Old Testament prepares us for Him, while the remainder of the New Testament is explanatory of Him. 

The statement “and the Word was with God” (1:1b) is an odd translation, seeing that “with” is the Greek word proswhich means a “marker of direction or aspect from which something is determined,” a “marker of closeness of relation or proximity,” or “marker of movement or orientation toward someone/something.”[6]

This should be viewed as relational, as Borchert notes writing, “that there existed a kind of interactive reciprocity between the Word and God.”[7]While the Word is distinct in Person, He is in complete unity regarding His essence, just as the Father and Holy Spirit are distinct in Person, but perfectly One in essence. This interaction does not diminish the concept of the Word being God, as the end of the sentence states. This understanding is also in complete harmony with what we know about the relationship of the Father and the Son before creation as found in John 17:24 where we are told that love was exercised amongst them without need of anything else. This display of love that the Father showed for the Son before creation began signifies the uniqueness of the Trinity, pointing once again to the attribute of aseity, without need of any outside entity in order to function fully at a maximum level. May we take a moment and be amazed that this profound relationship!

At no time does John want to be misunderstood. He states, “the Word was God” (1:1c) showing the Oneness of God though this revelation of Himself is unlike anything encountered before. Following this statement, John adds, “He was in the beginning with God” (1:2). This may seem like a needless repeat of the previous verse, but the masculine pronoun distinguishes it from the previous statement. As far back in eternity as God was, so was the Word. The two are inseparable.

John 1:3 shows the indispensable role of the Word in the creation events, speaking to both the seen and the unseen. There is nothing in existence that came about apart from the Word. Taking up the Hebrew concept of the “Word” once again, Psalm 33:6 states, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host.” We see the same reiterated in Hebrews 11:3 stating, “By faith we understand that the worlds(ages)were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Since no one but God was present at the creation of all things, this is an account that we embrace because of the conviction that it is true. This would be considered “historical science,” and not “observational science,” seeing that it is not an event that can be reproduced and observed over and over again. In both references cited, the word of God is indispensable, further bolstering the “Jewishness” of John’s statement in 1:3.

In the Word was “life” (1:4). This is an amazing statement. 

There are some who have subscribed to the idea that a person can lose their salvation if they sin too much, or choose to forfeit it for one reason or another. A careful consideration of this one sentence in John 1:4 argues against this idea from a different point of view. If we are thinking about the eternality of God and how the Word is at one with God, this means that “life” existed before time or creation as well. This is how we should begin to understand eternal life, because it is a life that has always been with the Father and the Word. The nature of eternal life is that is has always been, being everlasting in both the past and in the future, not to mention as a present possession that one receives freely at the moment of faith in Christ (John 3:16; 5:24). For the one who believes in Christ, eternal life has a starting point in that individual at the moment of faith. The “life” that is received is not something that originates in that moment in time but has always been, being freely given to those who believe in Christ. Therefore, to conclude that one can lose their salvation is to underestimate the eternity past idea of “life” existing amongst the Trinity before creation. To say that “life” can be lost or forfeited is to say that the freely given gift of eternal life somehow stops. According to Scripture, this is an impossibility.

John 1:4 continues the development of the “life” concept, stating that it is also the “Light of men.” This statement coupled with 1:5 is troublesome, seeing that all men start out in darkness (1:5), yet we are told that the “life” is the “Light” of men (1:4b). How is this so? 

John goes on to tell us that the darkness did not katalambanōthe Light, meaning that the darkness did not “overtake” or “overcome” the Light. Regardless of the presence of darkness, “the Light shines (present tense) in the darkness” (1:5a). Though the Light came about, being a good thing, the darkness was unreceptive of it, but has not overshadowed or diminished it.

It would seem that there is a brief but essential intermission in John’s thought before the explanation of the Light is resumed again in 1:7b. For a proper understanding, we must take the context as a whole, with John filling in the blanks in 1:9.

John 1:6-9. John the Apostle shifts to introduce John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, with a divine commissioning from God Himself. This can be best seen in the circumstances surrounding his conception and birth (Luke 1:5-25, 57-66). John is said to have come as a “witness,” and that he was to testify about the Light/Word (John 1:7a). At the forefront of John the Baptist’s introduction, we have the idea of missions and witnessing. The reason given for John’s mission is clear: “so that all might believe through Him” (John 1:7b). 

The Gospel of John is the Gospel account that calls the lost to believe, which is a word that is used 98 times throughout and is the stated purpose of John’s writing in John 20:30-31. Of notable mention, John’s Gospel never uses the word “repent” or “repentance” as a necessity for one to be saved. Instead, the emphasis is on belief in Christ. This is not to say that John the Baptist did not preach “repentance,” for we have record of this in Matthew 3:2. However, it must be carefully considered that this message involved the preaching of the Kingdom of God and not salvation by grace alone, through personal faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, and that his preaching was directed to the lost sheep of Israel and not to the world at large. Such considerations should keep us from avoiding the common error of lumping words and phrases together for the sake of “fitting our theology,” and should make us teachable and humble before God’s Word, seeing that He is showing us distinctions for a reason. With an evangelistic goal in mind, John the Apostle moves his account along emphasizing what is essential for one to have eternal life, and this is faith (believing) in Christ. 

John did not desire for his readers to be confused thinking that John the Baptist was the Light (which seems to occur in John 1:19-23). No, John’s mission was to testify to the Light. Please allow for a quick application: Our mission as believers in Christ is to testify to the Light as well. We are to call upon the world to believe in Jesus Christ. This must be done intentionally, verbally, and lovingly or we are clearly off mission.

The Word is the “true Light” that was “coming into the world” (John 1:9a), meaning that the Light was taking on a form in the world system. John has once again taken up the language of “Light” that may have been previously confusing in John 1:4-5. At this moment, clarity is provided from the previous statement of 1:5.

In John 1:9b, the phrase “enlightens every man” should not be understood to be saying that every man is saved, but that the Word gives light to every man, as is translated in the NIV, ESV, NKJV, and HCSB. This can be seen in the ideas ofgeneral revelation, seeing that all things are created through the Logos, and that the conscience, seeing that Jesus’ frustration with those who are not responding to the revelation that He is giving them is very real (See John 3:9-12). 

If we were to think about this one step further, we would also be wise to consider Jesus’ words about the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8-11, with a particular focus on v.9 which says, “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” It is unbelief, and particularly unbelief concerning Jesus Christ, that condemns a person, leaving them with no proper place in eternity but the Lake of Fire. This is clearly stated in John 3:18 which reads, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” It is not that the world cannot believe, which is obvious from the accountability that is required of them, but that they refuse to believe when encountered with even the slightest notion of truth (as seen in general revelation and the conviction of the conscience). Jesus Christ cannot be avoid, rationalized, explained away, or dismissed. He must be dealt with properly as the incarnate God, the standard of all truth and ethics, morality and the Giver of Life, and the Creator of all things. All order and existence points to Him. To not believe in Him is to reject the Light graciously given (John 3:19).

[1]Thayer, p. 382.

[2]Gary W. Derickson, First, Second, and Third John, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), p. 53.

[3]BDAG, p. 601.

[4]Gary M. Burge, “John, Theology Of,”Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), p. 424.

[5]Edgar J. Lovelady, “The Logos Concept: A Critical Monograph on John 1:1,” Grace Journal, vol. 4, no. 2 (1963): p. 14.

[6]BDAG, p. 873-874.

[7]Gerald L. Borchert, citing B. M. Newman and E. A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John(New York: UBS, 1980), p. 8, in John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), p. 103.