December 10: John 1:1c

John 1:1c

kai\ qeo\$ h@n o( lo/go$
“and the Word was God”

This is the third of the three clauses in verse 1; cf. the previous note (on 1b), and the note prior (on 1a). Each of these clauses uses an imperfect form of the verb of being (h@n, “was”) to make an important theological statement regarding the Logos. The first statement (1a) establishes the divine existence of the Logos; like the divine Wisdom of Old Testament and Jewish tradition (cf. Prov 8:22ff, etc), the Logos was, being with God “in the beginning” (i.e., at the beginning of creation). The second statement (1b) establishes the relationship between the Logos and God (the Creator El-Yahweh). The Logos was “toward” God, either in the sense of facing Him, or in the dynamic aspect of moving toward Him. Though the Father-Son relationship is not yet introduced at this point in the Prologue, there is a clear parallel to be noted with the closing verse (18).

The final h@n-statement (1c) is perhaps the most difficult, both in terms of its distinctive word order and the precise theological message it conveys.

To begin with the word order, an ultra-literal translation would render the line as “and God was the Word”, indicating that God (and not the Logos) is the subject. A more accurate rendering, that wished to preserve the word order as much as possible, would read: “and God the Word was”, but this also is misleading. The pre-positioning of the noun qeo/$ (“God”) is most likely simply a matter of emphasis: i.e., “and the Word was God.” Commentators have long discussed and debated how this is to be best understood, noting, in particular, the lack of a definite article for qeo/$ (compare with the clause in 1b). This can be summarized by way of three main explanations:

    • The Logos is divine, but not God per se; in this case, the anarthrous noun qeo/$ would be equivalent (more or less) to the adjective qei=o$ (“God-like, divine”)
    • It is an allusion to the Logos as God the Son, related to, but not equal with (and thus subordinate to), God the Father
    • It implies a concept of God that is broader than the specific person of God the Father (El-Yahweh)

I would maintain that the meaning of the clause is both simpler and more direct: it identifies the Logos with God (the Father). In this instance, identification should not be mistaken for metaphysical identity. Rather, identity here should be understood in terms of a fundamental signification. The Father-Son relationship is especially apt; the son may well (and rightly) point to his father and say “that is who I am,” without meaning he is exactly the same person as his father. One need not read later Trinitarian theology into the passage here, though certainly the Johannine Prologue had a profound influence on Nicene orthodoxy and Trinitarian thought. The Johannine Gospel throughout provides ample evidence for a simple (and rather straightforward) identification of Jesus with God the Father, based on the Father-Son thematic matrix.

If the relationship was established in the second clause (1b), then the aspect being emphasized in the third clause truly is identity. A comparison with the other “Christ hymn” passages we have examined suggests here the motif of the image of God, which is emphasized strongly in the opening of both the Philippians and Colossians hymns. In Phil 2:6, the pre-existent Jesus is referred to as being in the “form/shape” (morfh/) of God, while the Son (Jesus) in Col 1:15 is explicitly said to be the “image” (ei)kw/n) of God. The image is an imprint, or reflection, of another; it looks exactly like the original, and we may identify it as the original, though it is not the actual object (or person) as such. This is truly a powerful motif, when applied in relation to God, as many theologians and mystics have realized, since it allows for both unity and distinction, and incorporates both into the same illustration.

In Hebrews 1:3, a similar idea of image/reflection is expressed through the noun a)pau/gasma (“beam [shining] forth”), bringing along with an added dimension of light-imagery. The same noun is used in Wisdom 7:26, applied to the personification of divine Wisdom, and Hebrews is almost certainly drawing on the same tradition when speaking of the pre-existent Son of God. The ray of light comes from the same source of light, but is not the source itself. There is an obvious parallel between emanation of light and filiation—i.e., the son coming forth from the father, like the ray(s) of light from the sun, etc. The Johannine Prologue makes use of both of these motifs, introducing the light-motif in v. 4, and the sonship-motif in v. 14 (or earlier in vv. 12-13). The same verse 14, conveys the idea of the Son as an image/reflection of God the Father. We will discuss all of these verses in more detail when we come to them in the course of these notes.


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