Notes on John 1:1-13

John 1:1‑13  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, the expression of the Godhead, has eternal being, distinct personality, and properly Deity, not merely θειότης but θεύτης. We see One who was before time began. It is not even the beginning of creation but before then, when the Word was with God before all things were made by Him. Look back as we may before creation, the Word was—not ἐγένετο, existed, as One that had commenced to be, but was, ἦν, the Word incerate, yea the Creator. Further, He “was with God,” not exactly with the Father as such; for scripture never speaks with such correlation. “The Word was with God.” Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were there, but the Word was with God, “and the Word was God.” He was no creature, but essentially divine, though not He alone divine. Other Persons there were in the Godhead. “He was in the beginning with God;” not at a subsequent date, but “in the beginning,” when no creature had commenced its existence. For this truth we are entirely indebted to God. Who could speak of such things but God? It is He who uses John to write, and all He says is worthy of implicit faith. The Word “was in the beginning with God.” His personality was eternal, no less than His nature or being. Then as an added and after communication we are told that “all things were made by him, and without him not one thing was made which has been made.” The Word was not made, but Himself made all.1 The Word is the Creator of all that has had a derived being. He created all. No creature received being save through Him.
No scripture gives us such complete information. Even Gen. 1, though it points to states of creation indefinitely anterior to Adam, begins only with John 1:33All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3). “What was before creation is wholly omitted by Moses. John (1:1, 2) shows us what was before creation, as well as creation itself (ver. 3), in the most precise terms.
But there is much more than the power of an eternal Being. For we come now to a thing higher and more intimate: not to what was brought into being through Him, but to what was in Him. He is the true God and eternal life. “In him was life."2 Believers have life; but it is in the Son, not in them but in Him; “and the life was the light of men.” (Ver. 4.) Not angels but men were the object. He does not say life, but light of men. The life was only for those that believe in His name: the light goes far beyond, That which makes manifest is light. But men, in fact, were fallen and at a distance from God; and so it is intimated here. “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended [that is, apprehended] it not.” (Ver. 5.)
Darkness is neither the mother of all as the heathen said, nor a malignant creator the co-eternal opponent of the Lord God of light; it is really the moral condition of man, a negation of the light, differing wholly from the physical reality, inasmuch as it is of itself unaffected by light. Grace only, as we shall see by and by, can deal effectually with the difficulty.
Here it may be noticed that John does not discourse of life absolutely, but life in the Word, which life is affirmed to be the light of men. It is exclusive of other objects; at least the proposition goes not beyond men. So, in Col. 1, Christ is said to be the image of the invisible God, who is here only revealed to perfection in man and to men. He is the Light of men, and there is no other: for if man has what scripture calls light he has it only in the Word, who is the life. Beyond controversy God is light and in Him is no darkness at all; but He dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen nor can see. Not so with the Word of whom we are reading. “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” Observe the striking precision of the phrases. It appears in darkness, such is its nature—it shines, not it shone; whereas the abstract form is changed for the historical, when we are told that the darkness apprehended it not.
Thus we have had the Spirit's statement of the Word, in relation first to God, next to creation, lastly to men, with a solemn sentence on their moral state in relation to the light, and not merely to life.
We are next presented with John sent from God to testify of the light. “There was a man sent from God—his name John. This [man] came for a witness that he might witness about the light, that all might believe through him; this was not the light, but that he might witness about the light.” (Ver. 6-8.) God who is love was active in His goodness to draw attention to the light; for deep was man's need. Hence there was a man sent from Him—his name John. He, as we are told elsewhere, was the burning and shining lamp (ὁ ύχνος); but the Word was the Light (τὸ φῶς?) concerning which he came for witness. For his mission is here viewed in relation, not to the law or any legal purpose, but to the Light (and hence its scope is far beyond Israel), that he might witness concerning the Light, that all might believe through him. It is a question of personal faith in the Savior, not merely of moral exhortation to the multitude, tax-gatherers, soldiers, or any others, as in the Gospel of Luke. Every scripture is perfect, and perfectly adapted to the divine purpose of glorifying Jesus.
The Light is the object of God's gracious purpose. John is but an instrument and witness; he was not the Light, but that he might witness concerning the light. “The true light was that ['or, he was the true light] which, coming into the world, lighteth every man” in exclusion of Philonism and Platonism, as we have seen before of Manicheanism and eternal matter. The law dealt with those under it, that is, with Israel; the Light on coming into the world, a cardinal point in the teaching of our apostle (1 John 1:1-4; 2:7, 141That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:1‑4)
7Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. (1 John 2:7)
14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:14)
, &c), casts its light on every man. Coming, or a comer, into the world is used by the Rabbis for birth as man; but for this very reason it would be the merest tautology if viewed in apposition with v. ίίνθρ. “every man."3 It qualifies the relative, and affirms that as incarnate the true Light lights every man.
The result however in itself, is, and can only be, condemnation by reason of opposition of nature; for as we are told, “He was in the world, and the world was made [or brought into being] through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him to them he gave authority to become children of God, to those that believe on his name; who were born not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God.” (Ver. 10-13.) What infinite and loving condescension that He, the eternal Word, the true Light, should be in the world—the world which received its being from Him! How dense its ignorance that the world knew Him not, the Creator! But He had one place on earth which He was pleased to own as His own peculiar (ταἴδια): there He came; and (οἱ ἴὸιοι) His own people (it is not said knew Him not but) received Him not! It was rejection, not ignorance! This prepared the way for the manifestation of a new thing, men from out of the ruined world separated to a new and incomparably nearer relationship with God, to whom, as many as received Him (for it is no question of “every man” here), He gave right or title to enter the place of God's children, to those that believe on His name. Nor is this a mere external position of honor, into which sovereignty might choose, so as to maintain by adoption family name and grandeur. It is a real communication of life and nature, a living birth-tie. They are τέκνα θεοῦ.
John nowhere describes believers as νἱοἰ but as τέκνα, for his point is life in Christ, rather than the counsels of God by redemption. Paul on the other hand (as in Rom. 8) calls us both υἱούς and τέκνα θεοῦ, because he is setting forth, both the high place given us now in contrast with bondage under the law, and also the intimacy of our relationship as children of God. On the other hand it is notable that Jesus is never called τέκνον (though as Messiah He is styled παῖς or servant), but νίός.” He is the Son, the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, but not τέκνον as if He were born of God as we are. To me it is the name of nearest but derived relationship. This is quite confirmed by the immediately following statement of John, “who were born... of God.” So indeed it will be seen invariably elsewhere, despite the Authorized Version which wrongly represents τέκνα by “sons” in his first epistle, chapter iii. They believe on His name, on the manifestation of what the Word is. Every creature source is shut out, as well as all previous relationship closed and done with; a new race is brought in. They were men, of course, and cease not to be men as a fact; but they are born afresh spiritually, born of God most truly, partake of the divine nature in this sense, as deriving their new life from God. Natural generation, effort of one's own, effort of others, had no place here. Life, as ever throughout John and Paul, is wholly distinct from simple immortality. It is the possession of that divine character of being, which in the Son never had a beginning, for He was the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us. He is our life; because He lives, we also live, It is true in Him and in us, in Him essentially, in us derivatively through grace, but this not so as to be for a moment independent of Him, but in Him. Still we have the life now; nowhere is it taught that we shall be born of God, only that we have been. Begotten now, as distinct from born, is false, absurd, and without the shadow of scripture to support it.