In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2He existed in the beginning with God.
3God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
6God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
10He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
14So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
15John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”
16From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
It has often been suggested that the prologue was an addendum written by another author and added after the Gospel was finished (cf. Brown). However, the language and style are quite close to the rest of the Gospel, and such a theory is unnecessary. It is also often argued that this was originally a hymn with a couple of prose insertions (1:6-8, 15). Witherington (1995:47-48) calls it John’s “hymn to the Emperor” in four strophes (1-2, 3-5, 10-12a, 14). Others (Harrington) see the hymn in 1:1-5, 10-14, 16 or in 1:1-3; 4-5, 9; 10-12c; 14, 16 (so Hofius 1987:10-15). While it does have poetic elegance, the actual rhythm and organization of the lines of John’s prologue do not quite fit either Greek or Hebrew poetry. It is therefore better to understand it as heightened prose (so Barrett, Carson, Michaels). It is indeed possible that John was utilizing the form of prologue found in Greco-Roman drama here (E. Harris 1994:12-16). Others (Boismard, Culpepper, Pryor, Köstenberger) see the prologue as a chiasm (A = 1:1-5; B = 1:6-8; C = 1:9-14; B’ = 1:15; A’ = 1:16-18.
the Word was God.—The Gr. for “the Word was God” (theos ēn ho logos [TG
everything that was created.—It is debated whether the words at the end of 1:3 (lit., “that was made/created”) belong with 1:3 (so kjv, nasb, niv, Schnackenburg, Carson, Ridderbos, Köstenberger) or 1:4 (nrsv, njb, reb, nlt, Brown, Beasley-Murray, Whitacre). If it is the former, 1:4 would simply read “in him was life,” but the parallelism of the lines favors the latter option, seen in the nlt. In this sense, 1:3 ends with the statement “nothing was created except through him,” and 1:4 begins, “The Word gave life to everything that was created.” This fits the developing thought better than the redundant “apart from him nothing was created that was created,” and this was the older interpretation. However, when the Arians (fourth-century heretics) began to use this to argue that the Holy Spirit was a created being, the reading that placed the phrase with 1:3 became the accepted one.
can never extinguish it.—Translators face a difficult decision as to whether to translate the verb here (katelaben [TG
sent.—In this book the verb “sent” occurs 59 times, mainly of four cases in which God is the sender: Jesus (over 30 times), the Holy Spirit, the disciples, and John the Baptist. The verb in these instances partakes of the Jewish idea of the shaliach (cf. TDNT 1.414-420), the official envoy or representative sent on behalf of the sender—in this case, God. It is a major term used for the mission theme in John’s Gospel. Here, the Baptist is sent on a mission by God. Cf. 3:17.
coming into the world.—This expression could modify “everyone,” thus meaning the light came to all who were in the world (so kjv), and by the Gr. word order, that is a distinct possibility. But the context is clearly that of the Incarnation, and the style of this expression is quite common in John (ēn... erchomenon would be a periphrastic, “was coming,” similar to 1:28; 2:6; 3:23; 10:40 and others; cf. Schnackenburg). Thus, it is best to see the expression as modifying “the true light,” as in the nlt.
not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan.—Lit., “not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man.” Whitacre (1999:56) thinks there is an ABA pattern here, with the emphasis on the middle concept (lit., “the will of the flesh”), borrowing Brown’s definition of “flesh” as “the sphere of the natural, the powerless, the superficial, opposed to ‘spirit,’ which is the sphere of the heavenly and the real.”
his glory.—With the term “glory,” we have another of John’s major themes. In the Synoptics it describes primarily the glory of the risen Lord (Luke 24:26) and his second coming (Mark 8:38; 13:26 and parallels). The only use of it for the earthly Jesus is at the Transfiguration, when the disciples “saw Jesus’ glory” (Luke 9:32). In John, however, the glory of Jesus is visible to the disciples (2:11), and indeed it is always used of the earthly Jesus (18 times in chs 1-17). The divine glory was evident in the earthly Jesus for those with the faith to see it.
John testified.—John’s disciples continued to follow him even after his death (Acts 18:25; 19:1-7), and there are indications that the movement lasted well into the second century. In fact, a sect called the Mandaeans in Iran and Iraq still claim a connection with him today. It is widely believed by scholars that many passages in the Gospels about the Baptist (e.g., 1:6-9, 15; 3:22-36) were partly meant to show his followers that he never intended to found a movement apart from Christ.
shouted.—There is an interesting change of tense here: the testifying is stated in the present tense, indicating an ongoing witness, while the shouting is in the perfect tense (“has shouted”), which may well add a stative thrust, stressing the comprehensiveness of the witness (so Carson).
unfailing love.—The term charis (“grace,” translated “unfailing love” here) only occurs four times in the fourth Gospel, all of them in 1:14, 16, 17. Yet in one sense, John’s whole Gospel is an account of the grace of God in Christ. It is a fitting introduction.
unique One, who is himself God.—Lit., “an only one, God” (monogenēs theos [TG
If you were to write a biography of a famous person, you would try to sum up the impact of that person’s life and give an overarching theme to your presentation before you provided all the details. This is what John did in his prologue. The purpose of a prologue or introduction in any New Testament book (e.g., Mark 1:1-15) is to introduce the major themes and to help the reader understand who Jesus really is. This is nowhere better exemplified than in John’s Gospel. Here, the primary truth of the book is clear—Jesus is God himself!
In his Gospel, John has given us a theological masterpiece centering upon key terms, the most significant of which are introduced in the prologue—life, light, darkness, sent, truth, world, believe, know, receive, witness, new birth, love, glory. Most of all, he has given us a theology of the Incarnation unmatched in the New Testament (with the exception of Phil 2:6-8). Here we see a powerful presentation of what it meant for God to become flesh in order to bring light and life to sinful mankind.
The prologue has an ABAB pattern, from the Word (1:1-5) to John the Baptist (1:6-9), to salvation by believing in the Word (1:10-14), to John and the law (1:15-18). We will explore each of these sections.
The Essence of the Word (1:1-5).
It is difficult to imagine a more magnificent introduction. “In the beginning” reiterates Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” With Jesus as the Word, there is a new beginning, in a sense a new creation—a spiritual re-creation of the world. This is evident in 1:3-4, where Christ is creator of both physical and spiritual life. Yet at the same time, this says Jesus was in existence “in the beginning.” The idea of the Son of God as the preexistent Word is the basis of the incredible claims of this section. Verses 1-2 tell who he was (before creation), and 1:3-4 tell what he did (in creation). This One who was in the beginning is called the “Word” (logos [TG
John 1:1 tells us three things about the Word: he is/was preexistent (he “already existed”), he enjoys a special relationship “with God,” and he is the Deity. Note the progression. Each is more intense. The Word exists prior to Creation, then is in intimate communion “with” God (the idea is not just casual contact but special relationship), and finally is in his very nature God himself. This is a major theme in the fourth Gospel (cf. “Major Themes” in the Introduction), and everything flows from it. Only very God of very God could create the world and bring light and life to it. In fact, this is the most astounding claim John could pen. This Jesus who walked the earth was actually the eternal Word, partaking of the very essence of God! This is a truth so startlingly wondrous that John repeated key elements in 1:2 to make certain the reader caught these essential truths. Only one who had that special relationship “with God” and was there “in the beginning” could create the universe.
To affirm the divinity of the Word, John tells us that he was God’s agent in the very act of creation (1:3). To emphasize this truth, John states it positively (“God created everything through him”) and negatively (“nothing was created except through him”). The stress is on every single aspect of the created order. This is perhaps more astounding today than it was in John’s time: today we know there are more stars in our own galaxy than any human being could count in a lifetime, and there are more galaxies in this universe than there are stars in our own galaxy. And there are more complex cells in our bodies than we could begin to imagine. At both the micro-and macrocosmic levels, our universe is made perfectly. The created universe is beyond scientific understanding, and the Son of God made it all! The work of God’s Son in Creation is also stressed in 1 Corinthians 8:6 (“through whom God made everything”), Colossians 1:16-17 (“everything was created through him and for him”), Hebrews 1:2 (“through the Son he created the universe”), and Revelation 3:14 (“the ruler of God’s new creation,” nlt mg). He is both creator and sustainer of all there is.
Life and light were the two essential aspects of the Genesis 1 creation, but Christ has brought more. There is a double meaning in “the Word gave life to everything that was created” (1:4). In the original creation, he gave physical life and light to all beings, but now he has also made spiritual life available to all. The Word breathed the breath of “life” into Adam; now as the last Adam (Rom 5:12-21), he brings eternal life to mankind—another major theological emphasis of the book. Moreover, the Word does so by bringing “light to everyone,” a theme emphasized in 1:7, 9. This has often been labeled “universal salvific will,” namely God’s desire that no one should perish but rather that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Through the Word as “the light of the world” (8:12), God illumines every person with the light of the gospel. This looks to the revelation of God in Jesus, through whom every person is confronted with their sin and with the light that God has brought in the sacrificial death of Jesus. This is the heart of John’s message.
The darkness/light dualism (1:5) is a key feature of John’s Gospel. The light of the Word “shines in the darkness” of this world. In the original creation, “the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters” until God said, “Let there be light” (Gen 1:2-3). In this new era, a more important darkness—the darkness of sin—has felt God’s salvific light. Darkness is a common metaphor for sin in John (3:19; 8:12; 12:35), and here the idea is the war between darkness and light. When the Word shines in this world, “the darkness can never extinguish it.” Darkness hates light and fights against it (3:19-20), but the light must triumph. In our normal day-to-day experience, we may think of it this way: when we shine a flashlight into a dark closet, the closet can never say, “I don’t want the light; go away,” and cause the light to bend into another room. Darkness cannot “overcome” light and bend it to its will! Similarly, every person is brought under the light of Christ and must respond. Since this Gospel is an encounter Gospel (cf. “Literary Style” in the Introduction), this may also refer to the convicting power of the Spirit (16:8-11) as the light of Christ. As we will see throughout this book, the light of Christ will continually confront the darkness of sin and force the sinner to a “faith-decision.” That decision will determine their eternal destiny.
The Ministry of John the Baptist (1:6-9).
The first five verses speak of the exalted origin and status of the Word. Now we realize that the Word has appeared on the stage of this world, and he was heralded by John the Baptist, “sent” by God as his official envoy to prepare for Christ’s coming. John’s ministry was one of “witness,” another frequent theme that speaks of official testimony to the reality of Jesus (cf. 5:31-40; 8:14-18). John was sent to testify “about the light”—namely, Jesus—“so that everyone might believe.” This continues the message of 1:4-5; John was one of the divinely sent heralds who were to enable the light to shine on every person and prompt them to make a decision based on faith. God’s purpose in sending John was the salvation of mankind. The mission theme of this Gospel officially begins here, and this prepares the reader for 1:35-49, where John the Baptist’s witness about Jesus encourages some of John’s disciples to follow Jesus.
To make certain that readers do not misunderstand, the author clarifies that John “was not the light” but was “simply a witness” regarding the light (1:8-9). His entire focus was upon introducing the world to Jesus, “who is the true light,” namely the only one who can light the way to God. The word “true” means he is the “genuine” or “ultimate” revelation of God, the final and only answer to the dilemma of sin (so Carson). For the third time (with 1:4, 7), the emphasis is that he “gives light to everyone,” meaning that every human being has experienced the light of God in their lives through Christ. This, however, does not support universalism, the belief that everyone eventually will be saved. The “light” does not guarantee that everyone will accept the light, just that everyone will see the truth. They cannot “extinguish” the light (1:5), but those who “love the darkness more than the light” will “hate the light” and reject it (3:18-20). Most wonderful of all is the fact that this true light “was coming into the world,” a reference to the Incarnation. He was no Olympian deity, dwelling in a society above humanity with little attachment to humans or their affairs. No, he became one of us so that he could bring us to God. He is the God-man! The fact that the Word came into the “world” (kosmos [TG
The Incarnate Word (1:10-14).
There are three themes here: the rejection of the Word by the world (1:10-11), the new birth given to those who accept Jesus (1:12-13), and the true meaning of the Incarnation (1:14). The incredible fact is that the Word came into the world to experience rejection. John begins by reiterating the truth that the one who came into the world is the very one who created the world (1:3). One would expect that the people would cheer and worship their creator, who had loved them enough to become one of them. Instead, they “didn’t recognize him,” an idiom that does not mean they simply failed to know who he was but rather that they rejected who he was. As Brown says (1966:10), “Knowledge of Jesus would also imply repentance and a new life in his service.” This is similar to Romans 1:18-32; they had experienced divine revelation (cf. 1:4, 9 above) but had rejected it.
Moreover, he did not just come into the world—“he came to his own people,” the Jews (1:11). In the fourth Gospel, the Jewish people are regarded as part of the world. The reason is that they too “rejected him.” The parallelism between 1:10 and 1:11 is clear. Whitacre says it well (1999:54): the world had experienced “the general revelation of creation” and refused, but God’s own people had experienced “the special revelation of covenant” and rejected it. Then the most unbelievable affair of all occurred—God’s own Son arrived and they repudiated him. They had long speculated about and anticipated the Messiah, yet when he arrived they rejected him!
John divides mankind into two groups—those who reject and those who accept. In 1:12, the promise is given: all those who “believe” and “accept” the Word have an entirely new status and authority. God gives them “the right to become [his] children.” Believing and receiving are virtual synonyms, and they are further described as believing “in his name”—that is, accepting the reality of who he is. In the ancient world, a person’s name connoted the essence of who they were; thus, the belief here is focused on Jesus’ real self, not just his name. The result is that believers have the “right” or “authority” (exousia [TG
In 1:13, John emphasizes that this is not controlled by human effort but only by God. This new birth cannot come via “a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan.” In other words, we have no power over the process. It is a spiritual reality and so only “comes from God.” We cannot produce spiritual rebirth via human passion or family planning. Only God can accomplish it.
It is clear that this salvation will come in an entirely new way, and John spells this out in 1:14, one of the deepest theological statements ever written. The only basis for mankind entering the realm and family of God is for God to enter the realm of humanity himself and provide redemption. John states it unequivocally: “The Word became human.” This is the high point of the prologue—indeed, the high point of history. God has entered this world; his Word has become “flesh”; the Creator has become a creature. More than that, he has “made his home among us.” John chose a very particular term here (skēnoō [TG
Since God’s indwelling presence was in the Word, John adds that in Jesus “we have seen his glory.” No wonder there was no more need for a Temple; God’s shekinah glory now walked the earth, visible to all with the eye of faith! As Burge says, “Christ is the locus of God’s dwelling with Israel as he had dwelt with them in the tabernacle in the desert (Exod 25:8-9; Zech 2:10). Hence, the glory of God, once restricted to the tabernacle (Exod 40:34), is now visible in Christ” (2000:59, italics his). In actuality, the praise and worship of the church are simply the natural result of the recognition and affirmation of the glory of God in Jesus—when we feel God’s presence in a tangible way, we shout, “Glory!” as did the Israelites (Ps 29:1, 9). As Comfort indicates (1994:37-38), the image of Jesus being God’s Tabernacle “also speaks of God’s presence accompanying the believers in their spiritual journey.” God dwelt with the Israelites and walked with them (cf. Lev 26:12) via his presence in the Tabernacle. Throughout the Gospel of John, we see Jesus bringing God’s presence to people, especially the believers who saw the glory of God in Jesus.
This is even more true when we realize it is “the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” This used to be translated “only begotten” (kjv), and indeed the term was used of an only child (Judg 11:34; Luke 7:12; Heb 11:17), but that is not the connotation here (contra Dahms 1983). The components of the word (monogenēs [TG
The Greatness and Grace of the Word (1:15-18).
John now expands on the “testimony” of John the Baptist mentioned in 1:7. That testimony was that Jesus was “coming after me” but was “far greater than I am” (1:15). There is a play on words in the Greek, as Jesus is described as coming “after” (temporally) but is actually “before” John (both temporally and in degree or status). John was the forerunner, but Jesus was the important figure, the one whose “coming” had been anticipated for generations. The fact that “he existed long before me” refers back to the preexistence spoken of in 1:1. The Word had absolute primacy and precedence over John.
Picking up on the phrase “full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (1:14), John now turns to Christ’s “abundance” or “fullness,” reminding the reader that “we have all received” the benefits of what the Word has given us (1:16). Christ has filled us with blessings. The blessings are then spelled out in what is literally “grace instead of (anti [TG
In 1:18, John frames his prologue with the same truth with which he began—the deity of Christ (cf. 1:1). As Comfort states: “The prologue begins and ends on the same theme; verses 1 and 18, in effect, mirror each other. In both verses, the Son is called ‘God’ and is depicted as the expression (‘the Word’) and explainer of God; the Son is shown in intimate fellowship with the Father—‘face to face to with God’ and ‘in the bosom of the Father’” (1994:40).
In this verse, John begins again with the experience of Moses in Exodus 33:18-23 (cf. 1:14, 17, and comments). When Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was told to stand in the cleft of a rock as God passed by so that God could cover his face lest he look upon God’s face and die. John’s statement, “no one has ever seen God,” does not mean people have never seen visions of God (as does occur in Exod 24:9-11; Isa 6:1-13; Ezek 1-3). Those visions were partial, however, and no one has ever seen God as he truly is. In the case of the Word, this is no longer correct because Jesus is “the one and only God” (1:18, nlt mg). Note how clear a statement of his deity this is. The Word is uniquely God, and as such he was “near to the Father’s heart” (lit., “in the bosom of the Father”). Harris (1992:101) speaks of “the unparalleled intimacy that existed (and still exists) between the Son and the Father.” Here, we are at the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus is fully God and yet a different person than the Father. This is an expansion of 1:1b, “The Word was with God.” They had the deepest relationship imaginable. As a result, the Word “has revealed God to us,” the heart of the message. If the Word is indeed God’s “self-expression,” the living revealer, then he alone is able to make God truly known to us. The rest of this Gospel flows out of this essential truth.