In Apologetics, Doctrine

Matthew Henry (1662-1714), warmly remembered for his commentary on the entire Bible which became the best known, most widely used and deeply loved commentary in history, in his introduction to John 1:1, wrote the following comments about Francis Junius:

The learned Francis Junius, in the account he gives of his own life, tells how he was in his youth infected with loose notions in religion, and by the grace of God was wonderfully recovered by reading accidentally these verses [John 1:1ff] in a bible which his father had designedly laid in his way. He says that he observed such a divinity in the argument, such an authority and majesty in the style, that his flesh trembled, and he was struck with such amazement that for a whole day he scarcely knew where he was or what he did; and thence he dates the beginning of his being religious.

Three of the four gospels deal with the genealogy of the Messiah. Matthew traces the genealogy of Christ back to Abraham, confirming the lineage of Christ to people of Jewish extraction who looked in anticipation to the coming of the Messiah. Luke traces the genealogy of Christ back to Adam, pointing readers to the Saviour of humanity.  John traces Christ’s existence back to all eternity. He traces the awesome and majestic plan carried out by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, life and redemption. He establishes the glorious and incontrovertible truth that the Son has always been in perfect unity and purpose with the Father, and is God of very God.

In this article we will examine each of the phrases contained in John 1:1 which prove the full deity of Jesus Christ.

In the beginning …

Alexander Maclaren writes:

Genesis and John both start from “the beginning,” but, while Genesis works downwards from that point and tells what followed, John works upwards and tells what preceded—if we may use that term in speaking of what lies beyond time.

John does not write “from the beginning” but “In the beginning.” From speaks of a particular point in time. I have been alive from November 1951 when I was conceived in my mother’s womb (born July 1952) until this present time. After I die, if the Lord tarries, my gravestone will declare that I lived from 1952 – 20??

Contrast the difference between John 1:1, “In the beginning” and John 8:44, “from the beginning”. Speaking of the Devil, our Lord states, “He was a murderer from the beginning. …” Unlike the Being described in John 1:1, the Devil, who is a created being, did not exist in the beginning. Therefore, it could not be said that he was a murderer in the beginning, but from the beginning. From eliminates the possibility of eternal pre-existence as it refers to a beginning (and often end) point in time. In, on the other hand, predates “the beginning”.

Note the third word that John uses in the phrase “In the beginning”. The word “beginning” draws us back to eternity, before time, creatures or matter existed. “In the beginning” is one of several phrases that are used to describe the eternality of God. Others include “from everlasting to everlasting” and “from the foundation of the world” (Psalm 90:2, Ephesians 1:4). There is no argument, either in Genesis, or elsewhere in Scripture, to prove the eternal existence of God. This humanly incon-ceivable reality is simply assumed.

In the beginning was

The word “was” is the past imperfect tense of the Greek word “to be” and suggests nothing about origin, but rather expresses the idea of “continuous existence” (Robertson’s Word Pictures).

Therefore, no matter how “In the beginning” is understood—whether it refers back to Genesis 1:1 and the creation of the world and the universe, or to time itself—the Being of John 1:1 predates “the beginning”. Go back in time as far as one can comprehend or imagine, and understand that even then this Being already was! And because nothing—nothing at all—existed aside from God prior to his creative work, it is not possible that the subject of John 1:1, even before his name is mentioned, could be anyone other than God.

It is interesting to note that John did not write that “In the beginning” this Being “came into being” but that he already “was”. Was stands in absolute contrast to came into being and speaks of a limitless existence preceding the point referred to—the beginning

Shifting from thoughts surrounding eternity into time and space two millennia ago observe that Jesus himself used the present tense of the same Greek word “to be” in John 8:58, “‘Very truly I tell you’, Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” Both here, and in John 1:1, the word “to be” (translated “was” in John 1:1 and “I am” in John 8:58) expresses eternal existence. Is it coincidental that John and Jesus use the same word—in both instances stretching back to eternity? By doing so, is John giving us a clue that the Being who was in the beginning, is the Being who is in the present?

In the beginning was the Word

At this point John begins to explain who it is that already was in the beginning. He calls this Being, the Word.By the end of the first verse, he will have made his identity irrefutably clear to all who will reverently meditate on his words.

With every word building upon the next, John has already told us that the Logos or Word didn’t exist “from the beginning”, but “in the beginning.” Therefore, the Word could not be a created being or a part of creation because he already existed when no part of the creation existed. And if the Word preceded “the beginning”, then the Word cannot be a creature or created being, but must be uncreated and eternal.

Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce’s thoughts on the Word are sound and helpful. He writes that the Word should be understood in relation to the Old Testament “word of God” which denotes, “God in action, especially in creation, revelation, and deliverance.” Who then is this glorious being who Scripture reveals from its first page to the last as active in creation, revelation and deliverance?

John’s prologue or introduction (John 1:1-18) reveals with unmistakable clarity who this person is.

In terms of his work in creation John writes (vs 3), “Through him [the Logos or the Word] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

In terms of his work in revelation John writes (vs 9), “The true Light who gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

In terms of his work in deliverance John writes (vs 12), “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

In terms of his personal identity John writes (vs 14), “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John begins by calling this great Being the Word, which beautifully encompasses his work in creation, revelation and deliverance, and then reveals the Word as none other than Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son.

Concerning the Word, B.W. Johnson reverently writes,

The first chapter of Genesis helps us to understand its meaning. God said, “Let there be light,” “Let there be a firmament,” “Let the earth bring forth,” etc., and it was done. God exhibits his creative power through the Word, and manifests his will through the Word. There are mysteries belonging to the divine nature and to the relation between the Son and the Father that we have to wait for eternity to solve. They are too deep for human solution, but this is clear: that God creates and speaks to man through the Word. As we clothe our thoughts in words, God reveals his will by the Word, and when that Word is clothed in flesh, as the Teacher of men, we recognize it as Jesus Christ.

There is absolutely no mistaking that by the Word John means Jesus Christ. He does not call the Word “Jesus” in John 1:1 because that was the name given to him when he “became” a man at the incarnation (John 1:14). Yet it is clear that John was speaking of the One who existed in all eternity—who would take on our humanity—who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit—who in time would be called Jesus. His name was given when the Angel announced to Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus: (Luke 1:31).

and the Word was with God

The phrase “was with God” expands on the Word, who was in the beginning.  Not only did the Word exist eternally with God, the Word was in perfect, intimate fellowship with God.

Concerning the word “with” Alexander Maclaren writes that it means:

“towards,” and expresses the thought that in the Word there was motion or tendency towards, and not merely association with, God. It points to reciprocal [mutual], conscious communion, and the active going out of love in the direction of God.

According to Robertson’s Word Pictures with combined “with the accusative presents a plane of equality and intimacy, face to face with each other.”  1 John 2:1 uses the same word, and in doing so displays the same equality and intimacy: “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”

Of all of the relationships in history, none is more intimate than the relationship between the Father and the Son. John makes this point when he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God …”, and again when he writes, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father” (John 1:18). And the love of the Father toward the Son is reciprocal. He declares, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

So, when John writes that “the Word was with God”, he is not only making a point about relationship and intimacy, but also about separateness. Two distinct names are mentioned—the Word and God.

And in order to hammer the point home, so that no-one could legitimately question the eternal relationship, eternal intimacy and eternal separateness of the Word with God, John essentially repeats himself by declaring in verse 2, “He [the Logos] was with God in the beginning.” Together, the first two verses sublimely drive home the eternality of both the Word and God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He [the Word] was with God in the beginning.”

and the Word was God.

Albert Barnes writes:

In the previous phrase John had said that the Word was “with God.” Lest it should be supposed that he was a different and inferior being, here John states that “he was God.” There is no more unequivocal declaration in the Bible than this, and there could be no stronger proof that the sacred writer meant to affirm that the Son of God was equal with the Father…

Alexander Maclaren writes:

The last clause [and the Word was God] asserts the community [i.e., unity] of essence, which is not inconsistent with distinction of persons, and makes the communion of active Love possible; for none could, in the depths of eternity, dwell with and perfectly love and be loved by God, except one who Himself was God.

When John wrote that “the Word was God”, he absolutely did not intend for the word “God” to be understood in a subordinate way. He did not write that “the Word was a god”, as some cults and people who demean Christ disgracefully claim, or that “the Word was ‘like’ God,’” but he wrote exactly what he meant—the Word “was God.” John had just applied the word “God” to Yahweh—the true God—and it is absurd to argue that he would, in the same verse, without any indication, use the word again in a second-rate sense to describe an inferior being to the true God.

Here there is a unity of essence—the Word was God, and a distinction of persons—the Word and God. This is the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity. The second person in the Godhead is distinct from the first person, and yet the second person is frequently called by the same name, has the same attributes, performs the same works, and is therefore entitled to same worship as the first person. The second person is the “same in substance, and equal in power and glory,” as the first person, for John declares that the second person is “God”. He is intimately united with the first person in essence, so that there are not two or more Gods, but one God consisting of three persons—Father and Son, and a third, the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion

The inspired words of John 1:1 run so deep that no explanation of them can plumb their depth. Having said that, no accurate or truthful interpretation can do anything other than draw the conclusion that the Word is a person, and that that person is God himself in the form of the Son, who took on humanity in order to save us.

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