Dec 11 2007

Notes on John 1:1

Published by at 11:43 pm under Bible,Notes on the Gospel of John,Quotes

The Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18) declares the Word’s eternity, His distinct personality, and essential unity with God; His relations with creation generally, and with man in particular; His incarnation, and the fullness of grace, and perfection of revelation attained through Him.

In principio erat Verbum

In the beginning was the Word,

In the beginning: These words almost certainly mean here, as in Gen 1:1, at the beginning of all created things; in other words, when time began. Their meaning must always be determined from the context. Thus we know from the context in Acts 11:15, that St Peter there uses the words in reference to the beginning of the Gospel. Similarly, the context here determines the the reference to the beginning of creation; for He who is here said to have been in the beginning, is declared in verse 3 to be the creator of all things, and must therefore have already been in existence at their beginning.

Others, however, have interpreted the words differently. Many of the fathers understood them to mean: “in the Father”, and took this first clause of vs. 1 as a declaration that the Word was in the Father. But, though it is quite true to say that the Word was and is in the Father (10:38), both being consubstantial, still such does not seem to be the sense of the phrase before us. Had St John meant to state this, surely he would have written: “In God,” or “in the Father, was the Word.” He names God in the next two clauses of vs. 1: And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Why then should he at the risk of being misunderstood, refer to him in the first clause under another name? Besides,if this first clause stated the Word’s consubstantiality with the Father, the third clause: And the Word was God, would then be tautological.

Many commentators also urge against this view, that if the first clause meant, “in God (or, in the Father) was the Word,” the second clause would add the important statement of the Word’s distinct personality. However, the view seems to us improbable for the other reasons already stated.

Others take “beginning” here to mean eternity, so that we should have in this the first clause a direct statement of the Word’s eternity. But against this is the fact that the Greek word arche (beginning) nowhere else bears this meaning, and can be satisfactorily explained in a different sense here. Hence, as already explained, “in the Beginning” means: “when time began.”

Was: Is the Greek word en, designating something already in existence. Had St John meant to declare that at the dawn of creation the Word began to exist, he would have used egeneto as he does in vs 3 regarding the beginning of the world, and again in vs 6 regarding the coming of the Baptist. This cannot fail to be clear to anyone who contrasts verses 1, 2, 4, and 9 of this chapter with verses 3, 6, and 14. In the former verses en is used throughout in reference to the eternal existence of the Word; in the latter verses, egeneto is used when there is a question of the beginning of created things(vs 3), or the coming of the Baptist (vs 6), or the assumption by the Word of human nature at the incarnation (vs 14). At the beginning of creation, then, the Word was already in existence; and hence it follows that He must be uncreated, and therefore eternal. St John’s statement here that the Word was already in existence in the beginning, is accordingly, equivalent to our Lord’s claim to have existed before the world was created (17;5), and in both instances the Word’s eternity, though not directly stated, follows immediately. Hence we find that the Council of Nice and the fathers generally inferred, against the Arians, the eternity of the Son of God from the first clause of vs 1. “If He was in the beginning,” says St Basil, “when was he not?” (De Div., Hom. 16. 82.) In this way the saint neatly puts away the Arain dictum: “There was a time when the Son of God was not.”

The word: The Greek is Logos, meaning word, reason, revelation. St John here, as well as in his first Epistle (1:1), and in the Revelation (19:13), designates by this term the Second Divine Person. That he speaks of no mere abstraction, or of an attribute of God, but of a Being who is a distinct Divine Person, is clear. For this “Word was with God,” and “was God,” and “was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” and in the person of Jesus Christ was witnessed to by John the Baptist (1:1, 14-15, 29-30). Outside the writings of St John there is no clear instance in either th Old or New Testament of this use of the term Logos in this sense. Throughout the rest of the Scriptures its usual meaning is speech or word.

What, then, we may ask, led our Evangelist, in the beginning of his Gospel, to apply this term rather than Son, or Son of God, to the Second Divine Person? Why did he not say: “in the beginning was the Son?”

Apart from inspiration, which, of course, may have extended to the suggestion of an important word like the present, apart also from the appropriateness of the term, of which, we shall speak in a moment, it seems very probable that St John was impelled to use the term Logos because it had already been used by the heretics of the time in the expression of their errors. Endowed, too, as St John was, like the other Apostles, with a special power of understanding the Sacred Scriptures (Lk 24:46), and privileged as he had been on many an occasion to listen to the commentaries of Christ Himself on the Old Testament, he may have been able, where we are not, to see clearly in the Old Testament instances in which Logos refers to the Son of God; e.g. Psalm 33:6.

One thing, at all events, is quite plain, that, whatever may be said regarding his reason for the application of this term to the Son of God, St John did not borrow his doctrine regarding the Logos from Plato, Philo, or the Alexandrian School. For though met with in the writings of both Plato and Philo, yet Plato never speaks of it as a person, but only as an attribute of God; and Philo, though in our opinion, he held the distinct personality of the Word, yet denied that he was God, or the creator of matter, which latter Philo held to be eternal. As to the Alexandrian School, to which Philo belonged, and of whose doctrines he is the earliest witness, there is not a shadow of foundation for saying that any of its doctors held the same doctrine as St John regarding the Divine Word.

From the teaching of Christ, then, or by inspiration, or in both ways, our Evangelist received the sublime doctrine regarding the Logos with which he opens his Gospel.

Having now inquired into the origin of the term Logos as applied to the Son of God, and having learned the source whence St John derived his doctrine regarding this Divine Word, let us try to understand how it is that the Son of God could be appropriately referred to as the Word. Many answers have been given, but we will confine ourselves to one that seems to us most satisfactory.

We believe, and profess in the Athanasian Creed (Filius a Patre solo est non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus), that the Son is begotten by the Father; and it is the common teaching that He is begotten through the Divine intellect. Now, this mysterious procession of the Son from the Father through the intellect, is implied here in His being called the Word. For, as our word follows, without passion or carnal feeling, from our thought, from which it detracts nothing, and which it faithfully represents; so, only in an infinitely more perfect way, the Son of God proceeded, without passion or any carnal imperfection, through the intellect of the Father, detracting nothing from Him who begot Him, being the image of the Father, “the figure of His substance” (Heb 1:3). “Verbum proprie dictum,” says St Thomas Aquinas, “In Divinis personaliter accipitur, et est proprium nomen personae filii, significat enim quamdam emanationem intellectus. Persona autem quae procedit in Divinis secundum emanationem intellectus, dicitur filius, et hujusmodi procession dicitur generatio” (1 Qu. 34, a. 2 c).

And the Word was with God: The Greek words pros Theon (with God) denotes intimacy. God refers not to the Divine Nature, but to the Divine Person of the Father (see 1 John 1:2); otherwise the Verbum (Word)would be unnecessarily and absurdly said here to be Himself, since He is the Divine Nature terminated in the Secon Person. Many commentators are of the opinion that the use of pros (with), and not “in”, proves that the Verbum is not a mere attribute of the Father, but a distinct Person. So Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylactus, Lapide, Patrizi, M’Evilly.

And the word was God: As our English version indicates, Word is the subject of this clause, God the predicate, for in the Greek Logos has the article, Theos (God) does not; and besides, as appears from the whole context, St John is declaring what the Word is, not what God is. A desire to begin this clause with the last word of the clause preceding-a favorite construction with St John (see verses 4 and 5)-may have led to the inversion in the original. Or the inversion may have been intended to throw the Divinity of the Word into greater prominence by placing the predicate before the verb.

Some, like Coruly, refer God in this third clause, to the Divine Nature, which is common to the three Divine Persons; others, as Patrizi, to the Divine Nature as terminated in the Second Divine Person. We prefer the latter view, but in either interpretation we have in this clause a declaration of the Divinity of the Word, a proof that cannot be gainsaid of His essential unity with the Father. Nor does the absence of the Greek article before “God” in the third clause, when taken in conjunction with its presence in the second, imply, as the Arians held, that the Word is inferior to the Father. For our Evangelist certainly refers sometimes to the supreme Deity without using the article (1:6, 12, 18); and the absence of the article is sufficiently accounted for in the present case by the fact that theos is a predicate standing before the copula. (excerpted-with some additions by me- from THE GOSPEL OF JOHN by Brown and Nolan. This text is in the public domain

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