John (Part 2): Prologue – Part 1 (Ch 1:1-18)
I think we find three distinct points in the very first verse of the prologue. First, John wants to ensure that his readers understand that the One who became incarnate as Jesus existed from the beginning. Second, that One who existed from the beginning was “with God” in the sense of part of the Godhead. Thus, and third, this One was in fact God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses miss the sense in their misunderstanding of Greek grammar to insist on a translation of “and the Word was a god.” While it is true that there is no definite article before “God,” that doesn’t signal that the noun is indefinite. In Greek, in a sentence with a subject and predicate nominative, the definite article normally signals the word of emphasis—the subject. Had a definite article been put before “God” it would have made “God” the subject, requiring the translated sentence order “and God was the Word.” But looking at the flow of the verse, we should realize that John’s intent was a deepening association of this One with the one-in-three God, not simply a collection of disjointed clauses about this One who became Jesus.
In that first clause, John identifies this One as the Word. Why “the Word”? Why not simply “Jesus”? John does want to focus on this particular Person of the Trinity, but the name “Jesus” is the name of the incarnate Son, not the eternal name of this Person of the Godhead. To identify him, therefore, as God in his pre-incarnate life, John calls him the Word. And, I think, this designation helps us to understand the Trinity a bit better. An identifier such as Word, of course, gives us the idea of communication. But what is being communicated?
In order to get a running start at this, let’s take a step back to discuss something we’ve discussed before. We were made in the image of God. Not only does this tell us something about ourselves, but it also has the advantage of telling us something about God. Of the six elements we have that make up God’s image in us, three speak to truth, goodness, and beauty. We have conceptual intelligence, conscious morality, and perceptive aesthetic. It is not that we have or generate from our essence truth, goodness, and beauty, but rather we have these capabilities for understanding truth, goodness, and beauty. And that’s important because God is the source of truth, goodness, and beauty. He IS truth, goodness, and beauty. Therefore, as image bearers—reflectors of who he is—we need the ability to comprehend truth, goodness, and beauty.
There are three additional elements to our image. We have volitional faith by which we embrace (or reject) the truth, goodness, and beauty communicated to us. We have spiritual hope by which, in our embrace, we look for unending rest in this truth, goodness, and beauty. Both of these elements speak as to how we appropriate truth, goodness, and beauty within ourselves. The final element is relational love. And this speaks of how we articulate or express that truth, goodness, and beauty that we have received.
As image bearers, we would expect, then, that God too would have these same elements, and indeed he does. Yet these elements are not merely the comprehension of the qualities so as to reflect them. These qualities find their source in God. So, of course, God’s conceptual intelligence comprehends truth, but truth also is sourced within him—comes from him—is him. God’s faith and hope are perfect embrace of himself. And, then, significantly, God loves. Love is the expression of truth, goodness, and beauty for the desired benefit of the one to whom those qualities are expressed. We may, in fact, say that love is the most basic quality of God. Perhaps you may think that truth or goodness or beauty is actually more basic. But even as we consider those other qualities, we need to broaden our outlook to wonder how we know about those qualities at all. We know truth, goodness, and beauty only because they have been communicated to us. And by its definition, that communication is love. So basic to our lives and relationship with God, we experience love first; we see love first; we see God as love first. So for our concern—for the universe of our knowledge and experience—love is the most basic quality of God.
Let’s put that aside for a moment and talk about purpose. When engaged with an atheist or an agnostic, one argument Christians often use is that of purpose. Without God, Christians argue, life is absurd—life is meaningless. Sure some atheists (like Richard Dawkins) have shouted that we must create our own purpose. But that is merely being bombastic. Purpose for existence must extend beyond the limitations to that existence. If they don’t, they are temporal at best. They are purposes in existence but not for existence. That is why purpose must be given from beyond our existence. So just as a law must have a lawmaker who can enforce the law, a purpose must have a purpose giver who can see the purpose through. Even the non-Christian philosophers noted that without a purpose-giving God, life was absurd. The existentialists thought so. And Nietzsche, the existential nihilist, not only believed God did not exist, but stated that without God the only course to follow for those who truly realize that there is no God is suicide or insanity. And, of course, Nietzsche himself spent the last 10 years of his life in an asylum.
But in our apologetics, when an atheist or agnostic opponent realizes that the only understanding of life without God is as absurd purposelessness, the gut reaction is not to immediately weigh the consequence, but rather it is still to strike out against the theist’s position. So the theist is accused of misdirection by merely moving the problem one step back. If we exist and therefore must have purpose, if God also exists, he would too have to have purpose. So, then, the non-theist demands to know the purpose of God, and who gave him his purpose. The answer to who gave him purpose is simple. God gave himself purpose. This is not the same as us trying to give ourselves purpose. We are temporal. We are dependent. We are limited. God, however, is eternal, necessary, and infinite. Therefore, the purpose for an infinite God is itself infinite purpose and therefore needs no (in fact, cannot have) external purpose.
What then is the purpose of God? Why does he exist? Again, searching through the Bible in all the activity of God we have already found that the basic quality of God is love. But the quality of love in its essence speaks to the expression of love in its existence. The very fact that love is God’s basic quality, then, gives rise to love being the very purpose of God. Thus, God both lives as love and he lives to love.
How is purpose realized or accomplished? If I purpose to do something—say, take a sip of coffee—that purpose resides in my mind. I must reach out, grab the cup, bring it to my mouth, tilt it there, and take in the coffee. Several things are going on at once. As I reach out, what keeps me for extending my arm too far or missing the cup to the right or left or, having grasped it, bringing it to the top of my head instead of to my mouth. Well, I have some coordination sensors that assist me.
But how does my hand get the message from those coordination sensors? Besides the coordination occurring, there is a communication network that takes messages from the sensors to my mind which passes on communication to my hand. And when the coordination is ready and the communication has occurred, the actuation of the task takes place.
I think this is one of the best analogies to the Trinity that I can think of (besides, of course, marriage). There is purpose in the one essence of God. And yet in coordination, communication, and actuation, God accomplishes his purpose in his three Persons. Of course, it is an analogy and every analogy fails a little. The Persons of the Trinity have more self-awareness, I’m sure, than my coordination and communication impulses. But the general scheme, I think, must be very similar. And even in this illustration, we find the coordination sending the communication, but not in hierarchical control. The coordination and the communication and the actuation work in harmony to the one purpose and are held within the one essence.
And so it is that John tells us that in the beginning was the Word—the communicator of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. And that communicator was with God. And that communicator was God. Remember our definition of love—the expression of truth, goodness, and beauty for the intended benefit of the one to whom those qualities are expressed. So this communication we’re talking about is entwined with that basic quality and purpose of love. So John is telling us that God’s purpose for loving us—for expressing himself to us—was the foundational purpose for creation in the beginning. This is why we say that the purpose for creation was for God to have everlasting love relationship with his image bearers. We see that in this very first verse of John’s Gospel.
The Word of God is the expression of himself. It is revelation. When we read in the OT that “the Word of the Lord” came to some prophet, we are reading about God’s revelation. And in Jesus we have the ultimate revelation from God. Jesus is God’s revelation. Jesus is the Word of God. Therefore, revelation of God in his truth, goodness, and beauty—the expression of love—the communication of God—this is all what should come to mind as we read of the Word of God. The Word of God is God’s love and revelation to us, and it is ultimately revealed in Jesus.
Verse 2 seems to be there for emphasis. John has only just begun writing, and it seems that already he is overcome with wonder at the thought: God from the very beginning was purposed in revealing himself in love through and to his creation.
And verse 3 goes along with what we’ve just been talking about. All things were created with and by and for this communication of God in love. Here John continues to develop this thought about God’s communication of truth, goodness, and beauty as his intention all along all the way back to creation. God’s communication in love has infused everything he made, even and especially the life of his image bearers (v. 4). Again, tying his opening to Genesis 1, John plays on the word light, connecting the light God gave at creation’s dawn to the light of revelation in the life of his image bearers. And he continues with this dual meaning of light into verse 5 where he states that darkness neither overtakes or comprehends the light in physical reality and in the evil mindset that rejects God’s enlightenment.