December 14: John 1:2

John 1:2

ou!to$ h@n e)n arxh=| pro\$ to\n qeo/n
“This (one) was in (the) beginning toward God.”

The statement in verse 2 would seem to repeat verse 1, offering nothing new to the thought expressed in the opening lines of the Prologue (cf. the previous notes on v. 1a, b, and c). While it is true that the vocabulary is essentially the same, with no real difference in meaning, there is genuine significance to this statement which should not be overlooked.

First, there is the structure of vv. 1-2, which comprise a distinct unit of the Prologue (and the Christ-hymn); indeed, some commentators (cf. Brown, pp. 3ff) would regard verses 1-2 as the first strophe of the hymn. It is perhaps better to see verse 2 as the introduction to the hymn, taking the place of the relative pronoun (o%$) that typically opens the New Testament Christ-hymn (cf. the earlier note on Phil 2:6). The relative pronoun refers back to Jesus as the subject, serving as the basis for the confessional character of the hymn-formula—i.e., as a statement on who he is, who we believe him to be. Here, the demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this [one]”) functions much the same way. Without an earlier reference to Jesus, a relative pronoun would be out of place; instead, the hymn-writer (and/or the Gospel writer) makes use of a common early Christian convention, referring emphatically to the person of Jesus by way of a demonstrative pronoun (cf. Acts 1:11; 2:36; 6:14; 7:35ff, etc). The same usage occurs elsewhere in the Gospel of John as well (e.g., 1:34).

Let us consider the structure of vv. 1-2 as a whole; together, the lines read:

“In (the) beginning was the Word,
and the Word was toward God,
and the Word was God.
This (one) was in (the) beginning toward God.”

In terms of a thematic structure, we may outline it as follows:

    • The Word (Logos)
      • was in the beginning
        • was toward God
          • was God
    • “This one” (i.e., Jesus, the Son)
      • was in the beginning
        • toward God

The implication is that Jesus (“this one”) is to be identified with the divine (and pre-existent) Logos, comparable to the divine/pre-existent Wisdom of Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Prov 8:22-31, etc). Only the first two statements of verse 1 are summarized here in v. 2; the third statement (“the Word was God) is left out, possibly for poetic reasons, since attempting to include all three clauses in abbreviated form would make for an unwieldy line. There can be no doubt that the statement identifying the Logos with the Creator God (cf. the discussion in the previous note) is meant to apply to Jesus Christ as well.

The second principal point has to do with the way that the three statements in verse 1 are governed by the prepositional expression “in (the) beginning” (e)n a)rxh=|); on which, cf. the earlier note. The chain of confessional statements (the first two, at least) is repeated in verse 2, giving double emphasis to this important allusion—to a time, an existence, prior to the creation of the universe (cf. Gen 1:1 LXX). It is perhaps the clearest declaration in the New Testament of the divine/eternal pre-existence of Jesus; not only was the Logos/Wisdom with God at the beginning of creation, but so also was “this one” (Jesus), who, in fact, is to be identified with the divine Logos. The entire theme of pre-existence (“in the beginning”) defines vv. 1-2 as a unit, a distinction that is important in reference to the lines that follow (vv. 3-5), which refer to the creation of the world.

Third, it is also Jesus’ special relationship with God, defined by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), that is emphasized twice (on the use of this preposition, cf. the prior note on v. 1b). Again, it is the relationship between the divine Logos/Wisdom and God (YHWH) that is applied to the person of Jesus through the declaration in verse 2. Because of the importance of this point, it is worth discussing in greater detail; this I will do as part of the next daily note (on verse 3).

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