The Word Made Flesh
Rightly so, sooner or later, all discussions about Jesus lead to John’s Gospel. One main reason is the identity of Jesus as set forth in John’s prologue. Here we learn that Jesus preexisted as the Word of God and then, at a point in history became flesh so that the love of God, as John 3:16 states, could be displayed for the salvation of the world. We will explore Jesus’ identity and how that identity informs his purpose in coming into the world for our salvation.
(Because the translation, and standard interpretation, of John 1:1 is varied and disputed by certain groups, it is necessary that some comments interact with the Greek text and the grammar that guides valid English translation.)
John1:1A – In the beginning was the Word
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος
En arche en ho logos
In [the] beginning was the Word
John begins his Gospel, “in the beginning.” (John 1:1a) This is a deliberate allusion to the opening words of Torah in general and Genesis in particular (Genesis 1:1). In doing so, on one hand, John is alerting the reader, that what follows will have, from his point of view, eternal significance. On the other hand, John is also setting the context for everything else that has temporally and/ or chronologically come into being. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3) That is to say, as far back as the “beginning” is, the Word is already present, having preexisted the “beginning” itself. “In the beginning was the Word…He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1a, 2)
John1:1B, 2 – The Word was with God
καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν
kai ho logos en pros ton Theon
and the Word was with [the] God
While the intent of this clause is sufficiently communicated in the English translation, it is worth looking closer at 3 aspects of the grammar and syntax as communicated in Greek that impact proper contextual interpretation both for this clause and the next.
Nominative & Accusative Cases
Ὁ λόγος (the Word) is in the nominative case and τὸν θεόν ([the] God) is in the accusative case. Therefore, the Word is the subject while [the] God is the object of the preposition (describing with whom the Word is – in this case, [the] God).
The subject and the object of this clause in Greek are both definite – the Word, the God. Often times in Greek, a noun will carry a definite article that need not be translated into English. However, when we consider the third clause’s purposeful dropping of the definite article, we see John is purposeful in this context to articulate that the God, with whom the Word dwells, is the God. This is for 2 reasons. One reason is to undergird monotheism. Indeed grammatically, only monotheism is allowed. This is the God, not just a god. The other reason is to establish the God in distinction to the Word. While this may seem unnecessary, it is an important and foundational move on John’s part to establish who the God is in relation to the Word, for both this and the following clause.
The Word was with the God. Once it has been established that the Word was in the beginning (and it is assumed God is in the beginning), it is not chronologically surprising that, “the Word was with God.” (John 1:1b, 2) The preposition “with” is there to denote relationship between the Word and the God. Yet questions remain as to the nature of that relationship. If John had stopped here it could be (and in fact is) argued that the Word is merely a possession of God as an impersonal thought or an idea because we’ve already excluded grammatically (and theologically) the place of other personal gods alongside the God. This is what the next clause is meant to address.
John1:1C – The Word was God
καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
kai Theos en ho logos
and [Godhood] was [possessed by] the Word
– or –
And the Word was [by nature] God
As with, and influenced by, the preceding clause, this third clause also has 3 aspects (grammatical and syntactical) that will impact proper contextual interpretation.
In the second clause we noted the case tenses speaking to the subject/object distinction between ὁ λόγος and τὸν θεόν. Ὁ λόγος has continued grammatically unaltered, from the first clause, as the subject of John’s writing. However τὸν θεόν as found in the second clause is altered to θεὸς here in the third clause. That alteration is the grammatical move from being the object of the preposition to being the predicate nominative. Why is this important? As the object of the preposition describes who the subject is with, the predicate nominative describes the nature of its subject. In this case, θεὸς describes what ὁ λόγος is. As it is written, “In the beginning…the Word was God.” (John 1:1c)
The Word is, as to its nature, deity. Or, the Word is attributed with divinity. Or, the Word possesses Godhood. Notice, in this context, grammatically it is the Word that possesses Godhood, not that the God has possession of the Word. While subtle, this is a substantial difference. Those who would relegate the Word to merely an impersonal thought or idea that only resides in the God to later be made into a person in Bethlehem of Judea do so in strict opposition to what the grammar here allows.
Anticipating the misunderstanding that the Godhood of the Word resides in being identical with the singularity of the person of [the] God because of the change of τὸν θεόν from the object to the predicate nominative θεὸς, John drops the definite article. What is being communicated by this grammatical move is that the nature of divinity, deity, or Godhood that the Word possesses is not by virtue of being the same definite singular (person) as the God. The Word is God by nature with [the] God.
The word order of this clause places θεὸς before ὁ λόγος. In doing this, it alerts the reader to 2 truths. The first is to link whatever divinity that belongs to the Word by nature to the same divinity that belongs to the God from the second clause. This is to prevent polytheism, given what is communicated by the predicate nominative. Again, there is only the God. This leads to the second reason; the divinity possessed by the Word is derivative from the God since the God’s divinity is the only divinity there is.
Where does this leave us? The Word is not identical in Person to [the] God but rather, is identified by derivative relationship to the Person of [the] God yet, with the same divinity as [the] God as the Word’s own possession. In relational terms, the Word is the Son of God possessing the same divinity as the Father, precisely because he is the Father’s Son.
The Word Made Flesh for Our Salvation
Having established who the Word was from the beginning, John enlightens the reader on who the Word became in time. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only [begotten] Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) The Eternal Word, the Son of the Father, became flesh because we are flesh. He became flesh in order that, “all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) The Son of God became a man, so that men could become sons of God.
A Nativity hymn of the Church summarizes: “Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin. Today He who is without a beginning begins, and the Word is made flesh.” Christ is born! Glorify him! Alleluia!