Prologue Of The Gospel Of John

There has been much discussion of late on the various Facebook groups that I belong to concerning the prologue to John’s gospel. Trinitarians, of course, see in the prologue, perhaps the clearest testimony to the deity of Christ to be found in the NT. Biblical unitarians, of course, disagree, and various attempts have been made over the past three centuries to interpret the prologue in a way consistent with their perspective. Needless to say, biblical unitarians are not unanimous on how to interpret the prologue of John. I myself have pondered over this passage of scripture many times over the past three years seeking to find an interpretation that is both consistent with my unitarian viewpoint and that flows smoothly with the context. Personally, I have not been fully satisfied with any of the attempts I have heard put forth by other unitarian believers. I have come to the conclusion that if I could not find a way to reconcile not only the prologue of John, but also other statements in his gospel, I would have to reject the Gospel of John as canonical. So convinced am I of the simple and pure humanity of Messiah and of the uni-personal nature of God that I would be forced to regard John’s gospel as spurious rather than deny what I know to be true in my heart.

In this article I will divulge my own interpretation of the prologue of John, as I see it at this time anyway. I have respect for all of my unitarian brothers who have also attempted to reconcile the prologue with their unitarian faith. Many others more learned than myself have made public their own particular take on this passage and I admire them for it. My aim is not to say to these that I think I am smarter or that I have more understanding than they do, but simply to say, “Hey, here is something else for your consideration.”

I will first offer an interpretive translation of the prologue and then I will explain the main points. I cannot go into great depth on the exegesis simply because the article would be long. So I will give brief reasons for my interpretive choices and will even skip over some verses as not being relevant to a biblical unitarian perspective.

Preliminary Thoughts

Before I delve into the interpretation of the text I want to lay some ground work regarding the prologue and the gospel as a whole. I am, at this time, working under the assumption that John wrote his gospel for Jews in the dispersion, i.e. Jews living outside of their ancestral land, Israel. In my opinion, the gospel was written not only to give evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah  but also to give an explanation to these Jews as to why, if this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Jerusalem leadership did not recognize him as such, but instead handed him over to the Romans to be executed. Why should these Jews living outside of Israel believe Jesus is the Messiah when the Jewish leaders themselves rejected him?

I am also working under the assumption that the prologue is written as poetry. This is not controversial, for many Johannine scholars agree with this assessment. There is disagreement as to whether the prologue was an extant hymn that John incorporated into his gospel or if John composed it himself. The answer to that question is of little concern to me and has no bearing on how I interpret the text. But the fact that we are dealing with poetry should be a factor in how one interprets this passage. Poetic passages can not always be taken in a strictly literal sense and should be expected to contain metaphors, figures of speech, personification of abstractions and other artful expressions of both abstract and concrete ideas. We see these poetic elements in many of the Psalms and in many passages in the prophets. I believe that an overly strict literalness applied to the prologue of John by early church fathers who were under the sway of Greek metaphysical concepts led to a disastrous interpretation that eventually reshaped the church’s primal understanding of Jesus.

Another factor which determines how one interprets the passage is related to the opening phrase “In the beginning.” The standard trinitarian interpretation takes this as the beginning of creation, as in Genesis 1, and the rest of the passage is then read in that light. What I believe John has done in the prologue is to play off of the creation language of Genesis 1, not because he is referring to the original creation, but because he is speaking of another creation, the new creation. Read in this light, the prologue takes on a totally different look.

Finally, but probably most importantly, we must decide from what worldview John is drawing – a Greek philosophical or a Hebraic worldview. There was a time when the predominate view among scholars was that John was drawing from the Greek metaphysics of Platonic and Stoic philosophies. But in recent decades this has changed and most scholars see the Gospel of John as very Hebraic. This is significant because the main theme of the prologue, i.e. the Logos, is going to have a distinctly different meaning within each of these two worldviews. There is no evidence and no reason to believe that John would have been influenced by the Greek philosophies prevalent in such places as Alexandria, Egypt and Athens, Greece. Nor is there any evidence that he would have ever come into contact with the works of Philo, the Hellenized Jew from Alexandria. It is best to understand John as drawing from the Hebrew Scriptures, which he quotes from and alludes to throughout the book. He may also be drawing from some of the more popular Jewish works from the 200 yr. period before his time. In either case, his perspective is clearly Hebraic rather than Hellenistic.

An Interpretive Translation

John 1:1-18

1.) At the beginning (of redemptive history) was the word (God’s declared purpose to redeem man); and the word was in God’s service; and (in fact) the word was God.
2.) This word was in the service of God from the beginning (of redemptive history).
3.) On the basis of this declared purpose of God all things have come to pass; apart from it nothing has come to pass which has come to pass.
4.) In this word was (the promise of) life (everlasting i.e. immortality) and this promise of life gave men the light (of hope in the face of the certainty of death).
5.) The light (of the hope of immortality) shines in the darkness (of the despair of death), but those in darkness have not apprehended it.
6.) There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.
7.) He came as a witness to testify concerning the hope of everlasting life, so that through him all the Israelites might believe.
8.)  He himself was not the source of this hope, he came only to testify to it.
9.) The true source of this hope which enlightens every man was soon to come on the scene.
10.) The word was in the world, and though the world had come to be (as it was) on the basis of this declared purpose of God, the world (for the most part) did not come to know it.
11.) This word had come to that nation to which it peculiarly belonged, but it’s own people (for the most part) did not receive it.
12.) Yet as many of them that did appropriate this word for themselves, counting God faithful, it privileged them to become the children of God;
13.) who were born not on the basis of blood, nor of human determination, nor of a husbands will, but of God.
14.)  The word (God’s declared purpose) became (at last) a living reality in a man and he made his dwelling among us, and we beheld his glory, a glory like that of an only son from a father, full of grace and truth.
15.) John testified concerning him; he cried out, saying, “This is he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has become greater than me, because he was before me (in the plan of  God).
16.) Because he fulfilled his task we have all received grace upon grace.
17.) For the law was given through Moses; this grace and truth came through Jesus the Messiah.
18.) No one has at any time comprehended God (as Father) but the only-begotten son, who holds that special place in the Father’s heart,
has (in his appearing) declared him.

Exegesis

1.)  As noted above, the typical understanding is that John is referring to the original creation of all things. Even many unitarian Christians take John’s “In the beginning” to be a reference to Genesis 1. Some biblical unitarians, as of late, have opted to understand it as referring to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. While that may be a plausible way to see it, I have opted to take it as referring to the beginning of redemptive history. My first reason for this is that I do not see this as a reference to the Genesis creation. My second reason is that I just do not see ‘the word‘ as being a reference to Jesus, which would be a necessary interpretation if one views “in the beginning” as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Having eliminated those two options for “in the beginning” the only other option, in my mind, is the beginning of redemptive history. What I mean by this is the time when God first started to put his plan of redemption into effect in the earth. From that moment down to and including the appearing of Messiah is what I am calling redemptive history. I think we can pinpoint the beginning of this redemptive history at the call of Abraham in Gen. 12 but I am not dogmatic about it. It is also possible to see ‘the beginning’ going as far back as Gen. 3:15 where God says to the serpent:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

I have found at least one other occasion where ‘the beginning’ seems to refer to God’s promise to Abraham, 2 Thess. 2:13. The Thessalonian congregation was either completely or predominately Gentile {see 1 Thess. 1:9} and in this passage Paul is assuring them that “from the beginning God has chosen you (Gentiles) to be saved through sanctification of the spirit and faith in the truth.” The reason I think this refers to when God called Abraham is because of what Paul said in Gal. 3:8:

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

In Paul’s mind, God had the Gentiles in mind for salvation at the very beginning of redemptive history, when he called Abraham and made the promise to him. So while “the beginning” in 2 Thess. 2:13 could be referring to some other beginning it seems reasonable that Paul has in mind that point in time when God started the ball rolling on his plan of redemption.

The phrase appears five other times in the gospel outside of the prologue. It refers once to a very early time in human history {8:44} and at least twice to a very early time in Jesus’ ministry {15:27 and 16:4}, once to the time when a group of disciples began to follow him {6:64}, and once it probably refers to when Jesus began to teach the Jews in Jerusalem during an extended visit there for the Feast of Tabernacle {8:25}. What we see from this and from it’s usage throughout both the OT and the NT is that it can refer to any beginning whatsoever. The context alone can determine it’s meaning. But the problem is that it’s use in 1:1-2 is ambiguous, notwithstanding the long standing interpretation that it refers to the Genesis creation.

The Logos

The proper understanding of the prologue is dependent primarily on what John meant by his use of the Greek word logos. It has been debated for decades as to where John drew his use of logos from and I have no intention of rehashing that debate in any detail here. Let’s simply look at what the options are:

  1. John’s use coincides with that of middle Platonism, i.e. the logos is an intermediary being generated out of God’s own substance, through whom God creates the world. This is the Demiurge (i.e. craftsman) of Plato; the Logos of Philo; and the Logos-Son of the early Christian apologists.
  2. John’s use coincides with that of the 4th century bishop Arius, i.e. the Logos is a being created out of nothing, through whom God then creates the universe. This Logos is equated with the Son of God.
  3. John’s use coincides with the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. logos is a Greek equivalent to the Hebrew dabar and refers to God’s declarations i.e commands, promises, decrees, prophetic declarations, etc. Although this sense of ‘word’ is sometimes personified in Scripture and other Jewish writings it is never understood as an actual personal entity.
  4. John’s use coincides with Jewish belief in two powers in heaven; the Logos is the second power in heaven.

So these are our main options for John’s use of logos. We can eliminate number two because Arius’ belief was an interpretation of John’s gospel and was not a belief among the Jews of John’s day or prior. As for number four, trinitarian apologists like to assert that this idea among the Jews laid a foundation for the early Jewish followers of Jesus to see him as part of the godhead. The main problem with this assertion is that the Jewish belief was that the second power in heaven was always some created being, an angel or an exalted man, who was exalted to share God’s rule. In this scheme there was not eternally a second power in heaven. The Jews never would have considered the second power to be a being ontologically on par with God, nor would they have conceived of Yahweh as a multi-person being. The claims of trinitarian apologists regarding the two powers in heaven are overblown.

So this leaves us with the first and third options, which boils down to a Greek philosophical concept vs. a Hebraic concept. Why should we think that John even knew anything about the Greek philosophy of Plato? Also, it is highly improbable that he had ever heard of Philo and his Logos ideas. However, to the contrary, there is every reason to believe that John would have been drawing from the Hebrew Scriptures in the writing of his gospel prologue.

The Word In Hebrew Thought

In the Hebrew Bible, God’s word is that which he has spoken. God’s word falls into two main categories: commands, decrees, instructions etc. as in these verses – Gen 1:3; Num. 3:51; 1 Sam. 15:23; 1 Kings 12:24; 13:9; 2 Chron. 34:21; Ps. 33:6; Is. 1:10; 5:24 – and declarations of his intended purposes in the form of prophetic oracles and promises, as in these verses – Gen. 15:4; 1 Kings 2:27; 16:1-4; Is. 38:4-6; 55:10-11; Jer. 9:20-22; Lam. 2:17; Dan. 9:2. Other categories include words of rebuke and words of encouragement. As I noted above, God’s word is sometimes personified as a servant {Ps. 107:19-20; 147:15-18; Is. 55:11} but is never presented as a literal personal being. Some apologists have of late promoted the idea that at least sometimes the phrase ‘the word of Yahweh‘ does indeed refer to a second hypostasis of the being of God, whom they identify as God the Son, who is sent by Yahweh to communicate His revelation. I have shown the fallaciousness of this assertion in this article: Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

I see ‘the word‘ in John’s prologue to be referring to God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity from death. This purpose of God was declared by God ‘in the beginning’ i.e. at the beginning of redemptive history. Some biblical unitarians see ‘the word’ in the prologue in a more general sense, as God’s wisdom, that which is behind all of God’s acts, so to speak. But I think ‘the word’ should be taken in a more specific sense. Even if one wants to equate ‘the word’ with God’s wisdom it can still be specific i.e God’s wisdom revealed in his purpose to redeem humanity in Messiah. This, I think, is the meaning of 1 Cor. 1:24 – “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” – that is to say, that God’s redemptive purpose which he worked out in Christ is what best demonstrates both his power and his wisdom. To understand ‘the word’ in the specific sense of God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity, rather than in the more general sense of God’s wisdom, produces a better flow with the rest of the prologue. A  passage which clearly demonstrates how John may have been thinking when penning his prologue is Is. 46:10-11:

I declare the end from the beginning, and from ancient times that which is not yet done. I say: My purpose will stand and I will do all my pleasure. From the East I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man for my purpose. I have spoken it, yea I will bring it to pass; I have planned it, yea I will do it.

Here, God’s declared purpose was to bring Cyrus to the kingship of the Persian empire. In John’s prologue God’s purpose was to bring forth a man through whom he would redeem humanity.

John says that this ‘word’ was with God. In what sense could God’s word be said to be with him? If John is using the poetic device of personification, i.e. giving personality to God’s word, then it is easy to understand how ‘the word’ is said to have been with God. This would be similar to Proverbs chapter 8, where God’s wisdom is personified:

I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep . . . when he marked out the foundations of the earth. I was a craftsman beside him . . . rejoicing in everything before him.       vv. 27-31

Here God’s wisdom is personified as a woman who was at God’s side during the creation process, participating in it with Him. Yet the Hebrews never understood this in a literal sense; they understood the poetic device of personification to be at play here. What is remarkable is that early Gentile church fathers did take wisdom in Proverb 8 to be a literal personal being through whom God created the world. They saw this wisdom as equivalent to the Logos and understood it to be the Son of God. But it must be stated emphatically that they did not arrive at that conclusion based on Jewish conceptions of logos (= Heb dabar) but on Greek philosophical conceptions, i.e. middle Platonism and Stoicism. In fact, the interpretation of John’s logos as a personal being with God is to be laid squarely at the doorstep of these platonizing early church fathers. Most Christians today are completely unaware of this and have simply bought the party line that this interpretation goes back to the apostles themselves. But if John is drawing on the Hebrew Scriptures and hence on the Hebraic conception of God’s word, and there is no good reason to think otherwise, then it is evident that he meant something far different than did the church fathers of later centuries. This fact must be squarely faced and dealt with by all sincere seekers of truth.

That the ‘word’ was with God ( the Greek phrase is pros ton theon) could be denoting that the word was, as a servant, in a posture toward God, ready to do his bidding. This fits with the three passages noted above,  Ps. 107:19-20; 147:15-18 and Is. 55:11. Let’s look at the Isaiah passage to see something interesting:

So is my word (masculine singular) that goes out of my mouth, it (3rd person masculine singular) shall not return to me empty, but it (3rd person masc. sing.) shall accomplish what I desire and it (3rd per. masc. sing.) shall achieve the purpose for which I sent it (3rd per. masc. sing.).

Now here is a curious thing. We have here a very similar thing to what we find in John’ s prologue, only you wouldn’t know it by simply reading the English versions. This passage could be translated, in a strict grammatical sense, like this:

So is my word that goes forth out of my mouth, he shall not return to me empty, but he shall accomplish what I desire and he shall achieve the purpose for which I sent him.

Technically, this is a more literal translation than what our English versions say. But no English translation words this verse like this. The reason being is that although the pronouns are masculine in gender the translators understand that what is being referred to is not a person; God’s word is a thing not a person. So why then when these same translators come to John 1 do they suddenly think ‘the word’ is a person? Simply because this is the interpretation that Christianity has inherited from the platonizing church fathers i.e. it is purely tradition. If they had followed the same logic in translating John 1 as used in the translation of Is. 55:11, then John’s prologue would have looked something like the translation I offered above.

So we can understand John to be saying that the word serves as God’s agent through which he accomplishes his purposes. When God wanted to create he sent forth his word {Ps. 33:6}; when he wanted to establish Cyrus as king of Persia he sent forth his word {Is. 46:11}; when he purposed to make of Abraham a great nation he spoke his word of promise {Gen. 15:4}; when he purposed to raise up a man through whom he would redeem humanity he sent forth his word {Is. 11:1-11; see Lk. 1:67-75}. This just is the way God acts to accomplish his purposes.

John then says that the ‘word’ was God. As if to head off any misunderstanding right from the start, John tells us that the ‘word’ should not be thought to be a separate thing from God. Whatever the word does is just what God does. When the word accomplishes something it just is God himself accomplishing it. There is no separation or distinction between God and the word that he sends forth. To say that the heavens were made by the word of Yahweh {Ps. 33:6} is just to say that the heavens were made by Yahweh himself. To trust in God’s word {Ps. 119:42} is to simply trust in God. To hope in his word {Ps. 130:5,7} is to hope in him. God’s unity with his word i.e. his declared purposes, is expressed in Jer.1:12: ” . . . for I am watching over my word to accomplish it.” God had declared his purpose to redeem man and he watched over that word to bring it to pass at the appointed time {see Titus 1:2-3; 2 Tim. 1:9-10; Luke 1:68-70; Rom. 1:2-4}.

In verse three John tells us that panta di autou egeneto = all things through it have come to pass. While John is using the language of creation he has in mind something else. Egeneto, the aorist indicative middle of the verb ginomai, occurs 202 times in the NT and one of it’s predominate meanings, especially in the gospels, is to happen, to come about, to come to pass. All things in the long history of God’s working out of his redemptive plan, up to and including the coming of John the Baptizer and the appearance of Messiah onto the world stage, his death and resurrection and appointment to the right hand of God, all had come to pass on the basis of God’s declared purpose. The all things would include the call of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the birth of the Israelite nation and it’s establishment in the land, and the raising up of David and his line from which the Messiah would come.

Verse four informs us that in this declared purpose of God was life i.e. everlasting life or immortality. This is a poetic way of saying that in this word is the promise of immortality {see Titus 1:2}. This is the intended end of God’s declared purpose to redeem man from death. He next says that ‘the life’ i.e. the promise of immortality was the light of men. Now light is used metaphorically in a number of different ways in Scripture. It may denote purity or illumination or revelation. I think here it denotes hope i.e. God’s promise of everlasting life produces in men the hope of immortality. The counterpart of light is darkness, which would denote despair and gloom. In verse five, the light, i.e. the hope held out in the promise of life everlasting, shines in the midst of the darkness of the despair which results from the certainty and finality of death, yet for the most part those in the darkness have not understood it or laid hold of it.

Verses 6-9 speak of John the baptizer’s role in God’s redemptive purpose. He  came to testify of the hope of everlasting life in the coming Messiah so that the Israelites might come to believe. He himself was not the one on whom this hope of immortality is grounded; that one was soon to come on the scene.

Verse ten goes back to speaking of the ‘word’. We know this because of the masculine pronouns which refer back to the masculine gendered logos rather than the neuter gendered ‘light’. John says that the word, i.e. God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity, was in the world, in keeping with the personification. The word had been sent forth by God through the prophets. The next statement, again, sounds like he is referring to the Genesis creation, and this is on purpose, not because John has that in mind but because he is playing off of the creation language. The word kosmos (world) does not necessarily denote the whole universe of created matter. It basically means an orderly arrangement and often refers to the orderly arrangement of human society with it’s governmental structures. When John says that the kosmos came to be through the word he means that on the basis of God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity the kosmos had come to be as it was. I think this refers to the way the world was ordered or arranged, with the main point being the distinction between the Israelite nation and the Gentile nations. The promise would be fulfilled within and through a particular people who were set-apart from the rest of the world systems, so we can say that the world had been arranged as it was based on God’s declared purpose i.e. the word. This flows naturally into the next verse.

The word of promise had come to that nation to which it peculiarly belonged, Israel, but the people of Israel, for the most part had not received it. Verse 12 informs us that there were some among this people who had laid hold of this word which had been given particularly to them and in their laying hold of it they were granted the right to become God’s children. The phrase “to those who believed in his name ” refers to God, not to Jesus, who hasn’t even appeared in the prologue yet. To trust in God’s name is to count him to be faithful and able to fulfill his promise. It was the ones who trusted in God’s promise and who had repented under John’s preaching who were prepared or made ready for Messiah’s appearing. These were the one’s drawn to Messiah by the Father. Verse 13 is simply saying that not every Jew was given the right to become a child of God, regardless of their ancestral pedigree.

Verse 14 is where the man Jesus, the Messiah, appears on the scene. In the statement “the word became flesh” is John telling us that a pre-existent spirit being became a human being? Well, of course, this is the traditional, ‘orthodox’ view – the eternal Word became incarnate. But this sounds more like a pagan idea than a Jewish one {see Acts 14:11-13}. To say that God’s declared purpose became flesh is a beautifully poetic way of saying that the word, declared by God through the prophets in the Scriptures {Rom. 1:2} has now found it’s fulfillment in a man, the promised Messiah. That, which before was only a promise written with ink on a page, has now become actual, in the real world, in the man whom God appointed. The author declares that he and others had seen or perhaps contemplated his glory. Now the glory of a person is that which make him praiseworthy. Here it speaks of Jesus’ preeminence and excellence like that of an only begotten child from a father, i.e. this Jew stood out above all others as one in a unique relationship to God, as the one through whom God would redeem the rest.

The testimony of John in verse 15 regarding Jesus being before him is typically understood by ‘orthodox’ Christians to be a reference to Jesus’ pre-existence. But this is totally unnecessary. It need mean nothing more than this: The reason that Jesus had become greater than John is because in God’s eternal purpose the Messiah had been ordained to the leading role in God’s plan. John had a role to be sure but it was a minor role compared to that of the Messiah himself. The fact that John’s role was to point to and testify of the Messiah shows that Messiah held the place of priority in the plan.

In verse 16  I think “out of the fullness of him” speaks of his fulfilling or completing the task for which he was sent, resulting in our receiving grace upon grace.

Finally, in verse 17, John names the man, Jesus the Messiah.

In verse 18 we have a famous textual variant. Did the text originally read “only-begotten son” or “only-begotten God” ? While the vast majority of Greek manuscripts read “son”, three early and weighty witnesses support “God”. Quotations of the verse in church fathers is a mixed bag. Most have “son”, some have “God”, and a few even quote the verse both ways. I don’t think manuscripts or church fathers are going to resolve the issue. I take the original reading to be “only-begotten son” because this designation is given to Jesus three other times in John’s writings {John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9} while “only-begotten God” never shows up again. Another reason I prefer the “son” reading is that to me “only-begotten God” always did have a gnostic ring to it. There is evidence that the Valentinians used this designation for the Arche within their system, along with Son. What would an “only-begotten God” even mean to a first century Jew anyway?

In a recent debate between a biblical unitarian and Sam Shamoun, a trinitarian apologist, Shamoun kept going back to this passage as a proof text that Jesus is equivalent to the ‘angel of YHWH’ in the OT. He did this by misquoting the verse like this: “No one has ever seen God apart from the only-begotten son who is in the bosom of the Father; he has made him known.” In this way he was able to say that whenever God was seen in the OT it was actually the pre-incarnate Jesus who was seen. Unfortunately, the unitarian in the debate did not pick up on Shamoun’s twist on the verse and call him out for it. The passage need not be taken to be saying anything more than that in the coming of Jesus God is more fully comprehended {see 1 Jn. 5:20}. I take the word “seen” metaphorically as to comprehend or understand rather than a literal seeing with the eyes. This is confirmed by the fact that John then says that the son declared or explained the Father not that he made him visible. Now I don’t think this is saying that no one had ever known God because, of course, the scriptures speak of people throughout redemptive history who knew God. I think it is more specific in that by the coming of Jesus we now come to know God as Father on a personal level. The Jews certainly knew God as Father of the nation (i.e. our Father) in that the nation was given birth by God, but on a personal level they would not have been so bold (i.e. my Father). This is one of the things that riled the Jews about Jesus, he called God his own Father {Jn. 5:18}. So then in his coming he showed what it is like to relate to God on a personal level as a son to a father. This verse has absolutely nothing to say about Jesus pre-existing his birth and appearing in the times of the patriarchs or throughout Israel’s history.

Conclusion

I have kept my exegetical comments on each verse designedly terse for two reasons. First, because I was anxious to get this out while the prologue of John was still the hot topic of discussion on various online BU discussion groups. I had been wanting for some time to do this and the current interest in this subject on various podcasts has spurred me to finally write my thoughts out. Second, as I stated at the beginning, I did not want this article to be too long.

I am planning a follow up article entitled Appendices To My ‘Prologue Of The Gospel Of John in which I will go a little deeper into some issues and perhaps interact with some of the feedback I receive from this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Troy Salinger

I am 55 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 32 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 36 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

2 thoughts on “Prologue Of The Gospel Of John”

  1. Troy, thanks for the article. Good thoughts. As one of those who has recently been a part of the discussion on John 1 with podcasts and articles (https://anchor.fm/onegodreport-podcast), a few comments:

    I agree with you that “the beginning” is not a direct reference to the Genesis creartion, only an intentional allusion. Though you mention other references in John to “the beginning”, I don’t think you went far enough in seeing they relate to the life of Jesus. As do the “beginnings” in the other gospels, and in other NT literature. There is a historical contextual reason that Jews would pick up on the idea of a new beginning that I hope to get to in a forthcoming podcast/article.

    I agree with your suggestion that there is not necessarily a one to one equivalence between the word/logos and Jesus, and that yes, there is a Hebraic background for God’s word, especially as it relates to redemptive purpose and commandment of eternal life for humankind. However, I believe that Hebraic background is why John applies the word Word/Logos to Jesus in John 1 (cf. Rev. 19:13). “And I know that his commandment is eternal life” (John 12:50). “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11)”

    To me, John 1:1 is saying the same thing that Hebrews 1:1-2 is saying: “in times past God spoke in various ways to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken by a son”. In this way Jesus is the word of God, i.e., God speaking to us through His son.

    Also, it is important to keep in mind that in the Gospel of John, the word logos does not mean a plan or purpose, but a spoken message, teaching, statement, or word. Understanding logos as a declaration or communication of God fits better with Jesus being the current communication of God to man that John is about to describe in his whole book. And the book ends with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. God has declared for mankind, as communicated in the life of Jesus, resurrection and life.

    I like what you say about John 1:1c: “Whatever the word does is just what God does”. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what Jesus said many times in the Gospel? “My works are not my works. My words are not my words”.

    I really like what you said about “light” representing the hope of life in the age to come, in the midst of the darkness of the current age.

    But I don’t think you recognize enough the direct parallels between the prologue and the Gospel of John. Take “life” and “light” for instance, which the prologue associates with the logos. Then read John 3:19-20, 8:12, 9:5, 12:35, 12:46. Jesus is the light (and life). To ignore or deny that in John’s prologue John is not introducing Jesus as the light and life, to which John then describes in his Gospel, just doesn’t make sense. I’ll say it again, the argument isn’t going to fly against trinitarians, and rightly so. “I can see that Jesus is the light in John’s Gospel, and you are telling me he’s not in John 1? Sorry, you’re wrong”.

    Same with John 1:6-9. John the Baptist is testified to the light. It doesn’t make sense to have the Gospel writer introduce John the Baptist so early in his prologue and Gospel as testifying to the light, and then say that light is not Jesus.

    I think this is the same for “believe in his name” (1:12) which you stated as believing in God’s name. What about John 2:23, 3:18, and 20:31?

    Enough for now. Again, thanks for the article. I enjoyed reading it even though I don’t entirely agree. I think we are basically on the same path. Again, really like the idea of “light” being the hope (in the midst of this present darkness) for mankind of life in the age to come.

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  2. One other thing I want to say: I appreciate your four options for how to interpret logos in John 1, and like you, I basically fall into #3 camp, understanding word/logos in its Hebraic setting. However, while it is platonic to see a “pre-incarnate” person present with God involved in creation, it is Hebraic to see a human person, with God, toward God, through whom God works. Adam, Noah, Abraham and Davidic king (Solomon built his house right next to God’s) case in point. Clearly by the end of the prologue (1:18) there is a human person “with” God, at God’s very side, through whom God is known. Could John 1:1 be inclusio with 1:18? I think it quite likely.

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