John 1:1-18

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Home > The New Testament > John > Chapter 1a / Verses 1:1-18
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

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  • John 1:1-18. It appears that John has used an existing hymn to open his gospel, inserting commentary at a few points in the hymn. Verse 1 of the hymn: verses 1-2; verse 2 of the hymn: verses 3-5; verse 3 of the hymn: verses 10-12; Verse 4 of the hymn, verse 14; verse 5 of the hymn, verse 16. The other verses (6-9, the last part of 12, 13, 15, 17, and 18) are probably commentary on the hymn.
  • John 1:1-2. The Greek word translated "beginning" has a variety of meanings. For example, it can mean "first in time," "ultimate principle," "ruler," or "norm." Thus, a person who spoke Greek would hear not only the meaning we get in the translation ("In the beginning was the word"), but also the connotations created by these other meanings. Those connotations would have influenced how a person reading John when it was first written would understand the passage. The implication of those connotations would be that Christ is the ultimate principle, standard, or ruler, a ruler who has existed, in the presence of God, from the beginning.
The Greek word translated "Word" is logos. It has two broad meanings: (1) the explanation or revelation of something (including meanings like "account," "speech," "proportion," "relation," "measure," and "mind"), and, (2) the most essential element of things, the things that makes every other thing intelligible. (The latter broad meaning gives rise to specific meanings like "revelation," "law," "truth," "knowledge," "virtue," "nature," and "spirit.") The root of the word logos is the verb legein, "to gather."
Though John writes in Greek and seems to be addressing a primarily Greek audience, he is probably also depending on the Old Testament use of the word "word." (See the New Testament footnotes for more information.) For us, given the way English works, a word is a sign of a thing, a concept. But in the Old Testament, God’s word refers more to an event or a deed than it does to a concept. A word is what does something. As a result, in the Old Testament, "word" usually refers to prophetic revelation and, often, specifically to the Mosaic Law. It refers specifically to the giving of the revelation rather than to its content. In line with this, "word" also can refer to the word spoken to create something, as in Genesis 1:1. (We can see this use of word in Ezekiel 37:4 and Jacob 4:9, and, by implication, in Isaiah 40:26.)
The phrase, "the Word was with God," can literally be translated "the Word was before ['in front of,' 'in the presence of,' or even 'toward'] God."
The order of the words in the Greek exhibit a literary form known as Climax or Gradation:
 In the beginning was 
   the Word: and 
   the Word was with 
     God: and 
     God
       the Word was, and
       the same [word] was in the beginning with God.
  • John 1:4-5. Notice that the verse in verse 4 are in the past tense and the last verb in verse 5 ("did not comprehend") is also in the past tense, but the first verb in verse 5 ("shines") is in the present tense.
The Climax form is used again:
 In Him was
   life; and the
   life was the
     light of men. And the
     light shineth in
       darkness; and the 
       darkness comprehended it not.
  • John 1:4-5. In the Old Testament, the word "light" usually refers to experienced brightness; it refers to experience rather than to a thing or a state. Therefore, the word "light" also refers to salvation, our experience of being in the right relation with God or our experience of our relation with God made right. God is our light (Psalms 27:1): he enlightens us by making our salvation possible (Psalms 97:11). The contrast of light and dark is not as important to the Old Testament (or to the B.C. part of the Book of Mormon) as it is to John; in making that contrast John seems to introduce an essentially new element. In the Gospel of John, light stands at least for revelation (see John 12:36) and, therefore, also for the Revealer (John 1:5?, 8:12, 9:5, and 12:46).
  • John 1:5: Comprehended. The Greek word katelaben means "to seize" (possibly with one's mind), "to make one’s own," or "to overcome." (See the NT footnotes and the NET footnotes.) The NRSV rendering is "And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
  • John 1:11: His own. See this post by Kevin Barney at the Feast blog for an analysis of the underlying Greek text here. The first occurrence of idios ("his own") is neutral in gender whereas the second is masculine. Here are a list of alternate translations. The NRSV rendering is: "He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him."
  • John 1:12: Receive. Another translation of the Greek word translated "receive" is "accept."
  • John 1:14: Grace. The word translated "grace" could also be translated "mercy." The phrase "grace and truth" seems to imitate a pair of characteristics used to describe God in the Old Testament: his loving-kindness (esed) and his faithfulness in keeping his covenants (‘emet). Exodus 34:6 is representative of many Old Testament scriptures that mention these attributes of God, probably the most important of the divine attributes discussed in the Old Testament. (See also Psalms 25:10, 61:7, 86:15; and Proverbs 20:28.) This early hymn explicitly identifies Christ with the God of the Old Testament.
  • John 1:14: Truth. The word translated "truth" means truth, but it originally meant "what is unconcealed" or "what is revealed" (though by the time of Christ that origin had probably long been forgotten).
  • John 1:14. Structurally, this verse repeats verse 1. Like verse one it testifies of Christ’s existence, of his relation to the Father, and of his attributes: "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us"—he exists; "we beheld his glory, the glory of the unique Son of the Father"—his relation to the Father; full of grace and love—his attributes.
Though "only begotten" is an accurate translation, that translation changes the emphasis of the original. The Greek emphasizes the uniqueness of the Son. Literally, this says "the glory of a singular Son coming from the Father."

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  • John 1:1. Why does John begin his testimony of Christ’s ministry with the same words we find at the beginning of Genesis (Genesis 1:1), "In the beginning . . ."? Why does John begin his book by referring to the beginning rather than to the birth of Christ? Is he concerned with the creation itself or with something else? If the latter, what?
  • John 1:1. Why is Christ called "the Word"? How is Christ the word of the Old Testament? What does it mean to say that he is?
  • John 1:1. What does it mean to say that Christ was with the Father in the beginning? What does it mean to be in the presence of God? In what sense might Christ have been "toward" the Father? (Moses 4:1-2 seems relevant here.)
  • John 1:2. This verse repeats the content of verse 1. Why?
  • John 1:3. To what is the verse referring when it says that "all things" were made by Christ? Is it referring only to the world and the objects in the world?
  • John 1:4. What does it mean to say that life was in the Word? Physical life? Spiritual life? When did the physical creation occur? When did the spiritual creation, the spiritual life, with which John is concerned occur? What is the connection of this verse to the previous verse? In other words, what does the meaning of this verse have to do with that of verse 3? A more literal translation of the second half of the verse might be, "and this life was the light of human beings." To what does "this life" refer? What does the last half of the verse mean?
  • John 1:5. What does it mean to say that the light shines in darkness? What does it mean to say that the darkness did not comprehend the light?
  • John 1:6-9. Why does John think that it is important to respond to verses 1 through 5 by talking about John the Baptist? Can you explain what in the first five verses might have prompted him to interject this discussion of John the Baptist? Why was/is the testimony of verses 8-9 important?
  • John 1:13. What does this verse tell us about how we come to have the power to become the children of God? What does it mean to say that those who believe on God are not born of blood? That they are not born of the will of the flesh? That they are not born of the will of man? What does it mean to be born of God? In the Old Testament flesh often refers to human weakness, as in Isaiah 40:6. Blood in the Old Testament is usually associated with death. Might John have those associations in mind? If so, how does that help us understand this verse? Some have suggested that "blood" means "natural generation," that "flesh" means "natural desires, such as the desire to have children," and that "the will of man" means "the human ability to choose." Does that help give insight into a possible meaning of this verse?
  • John 1:14. How do you think that those of a Greek culture, including educated Jews, would have responded to this announcement: God was made flesh and dwelt among human beings? How would Greek and Roman intellectuals have responded?
  • John 1:14. What does it mean to say that Jesus is full of grace? That he is full of truth?
  • John 1:15. Just as John began his commentary on this hymn by talking about John the Baptist, he ends by talking about John the Baptist. Why? Why was John the Baptist so important to explaining the mission of Jesus? (Compare Mark 1:7 and Matthew 3:11.)
  • John 1:16: Grace for grace. What does "grace for grace" mean? Does it mean "one kind of grace replacing another," perhaps the expression of divine mercy (esed—loving-kindness) in the Mosaic covenant replaced by its expression in the new covenant? Does it mean that "grace is piled upon grace," indicting an abundance of fullness? Or, does it mean "grace in return for grace"? Look at the other places where this phrase occurs in scripture and see whether those help you understand better the meaning of the phrase (Helaman 12:24; D&C 93:12 and 20). Do we see the same teaching in Doctrine and Covenants 84:38?
  • John 1:17. What is the contrast between the law, on the one hand, and grace and truth, on the other? How have we received the fulness and what is the fulness mentioned in verse 16? How does this verse tell us to understand "grace for grace" in verse 16?
  • John 1:18. How did Joseph Smith clarify the meaning of this verse? How does this verse help us understand the meaning of the hymn? Specifically, how does it help us understand verse 16?

Resources[edit]

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Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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