How Do You Understand John 1:1?

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How do you understand John 1:1? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Linked as it is with John’s prologue (1:1-18) and the full fourth Gospel, this verse reveals timeless truths and endless insights beyond what we can fully grasp, but that doesn’t keep us from grasping. 

Who or what is Jesus? John’s Gospel begins by introducing the Word, an eternal entity who not only relates with God but also identifies as God. John 1:1 leaves us longing for more. Thankfully, the next seventeen verses tell us much of what our minds long to know about the Word, and the balance of the book fleshes out much more of the heavenly scene. 

John 1:14 fills in the biggest blank by affirming that the Word of verse 1 “was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (KJV). This is an unmistakable reference to that Incarnation event by which the preexistent spiritual Son of the eternal, invisible Spirit Father-God in heaven took human form like us so that we could be restored to the image of Him who first created us. 

Said another way, the transcendent Word of John 1:1 became the divine-human Son whom the fourth Gospel sets forth as the Bread and Water of life, the Light of the world, the Good Shepherd and only Door to the one true sheepfold, the Way and Truth, the Resurrection and Life, and the Lamb of God that takes away the world’s sin. 

The nature and essence of the Word that became flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus can scarcely be distinguished from the nature and essence of His Father in heaven. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us was one true, beloved, begotten Son of the one true God. He shared the omnipotence of the almighty Creator, the omniscience of the all-wise Father, and the omnipresence of the all-loving Spirit of God. 

When was the Word both God and with God? Before He became flesh and lived among us in Jesus Christ? “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1) pushes us back into the farthest limits of time past, to eternity’s unfathomable border. If Jesus was begotten — not created — of His Father as we affirm, then we can scarcely conceive of a time when the eternal Father did not know, did not cherish, had not begotten His one and only Son. Speaking of creation, we think of an act or acts that are accomplished in time and space. Thinking of Jesus’ begettal by His Father’s own divine self and God-person, we need not think in the same terms. The Bible’s “in the beginning” is mostly equivalent to “before time began.” 

Where was the Word with God? The Bible’s one God reveals Himself as both Father and Son, via the Holy Spirit. Our Father in heaven is God. His Son Jesus Christ shared the Father’s eternal glory before taking human form to serve and die on earth, and now reigns with His Father above — Lord over all. They share the same one “God essence” and the same one divine nature, united in the Holy Spirit of love. 

Expressing these profound Bible truths so that they are understood and accessible to all is not within human reach, but it is no sin to try — even when we fail. Of all Scriptures that bear on this amazing theme, John 1:1ff is the most familiar. Other texts that support the same view of Christ’s personhood and deity are Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1; 9 — 2:10; and Hebrews 1:1-14. 

— Elder Calvin Burrell

 

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    Calvin Burrell is former editor of the Bible Advocate and former director of G. C. Missions. He retired in 2015 and lives with his wife, Barb, in Stayton, OR. They attend church in Marion, OR.