John 1:1

The Prologue to the Gospel

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.

John 20:28

20:28 Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!”

sn In the beginning. The search for the basic “stuff” out of which things are made was the earliest one in Greek philosophy. It was attended by the related question of “What is the process by which the secondary things came out of the primary one (or ones)?,” or in Aristotelian terminology, “What is the ‘beginning’ (same Greek word as beginning, John 1:1) and what is the origin of the things that are made?” In the New Testament the word usually has a temporal sense, but even BDAG 138 s.v. ἀρχή 3 lists a major category of meaning as “the first cause.” For John, the words “In the beginning” are most likely a conscious allusion to the opening words of Genesis – “In the beginning.” Other concepts which occur prominently in Gen 1 are also found in John’s prologue: “life” (1:4) “light” (1:4) and “darkness” (1:5). Gen 1 describes the first (physical) creation; John 1 describes the new (spiritual) creation. But this is not to play off a false dichotomy between “physical” and “spiritual”; the first creation was both physical and spiritual. The new creation is really a re-creation, of the spiritual (first) but also the physical. (In spite of the common understanding of John’s “spiritual” emphasis, the “physical” re-creation should not be overlooked; this occurs in John 2 with the changing of water into wine, in John 11 with the resurrection of Lazarus, and the emphasis of John 20-21 on the aftermath of Jesus’ own resurrection.)

tn The preposition πρός (pros) implies not just proximity, but intimate personal relationship. M. Dods stated, “Πρός …means more than μετά or παρά, and is regularly employed in expressing the presence of one person with another” (“The Gospel of St. John,” The Expositors Greek Testament, 1:684). See also Mark 6:3, Matt 13:56, Mark 9:19, Gal 1:18, 2 John 12.

tn Or “and what God was the Word was.” Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of θεός (qeos) as definite (“God”) rather than indefinite (“a god”) here. However, Colwell’s Rule merely permits, but does not demand, that a predicate nominative ahead of an equative verb be translated as definite rather than indefinite. Furthermore, Colwell’s Rule did not deal with a third possibility, that the anarthrous predicate noun may have more of a qualitative nuance when placed ahead of the verb. A definite meaning for the term is reflected in the traditional rendering “the word was God.” From a technical standpoint, though, it is preferable to see a qualitative aspect to anarthrous θεός in John 1:1c (ExSyn 266-69). Translations like the NEB, REB, and Moffatt are helpful in capturing the sense in John 1:1c, that the Word was fully deity in essence (just as much God as God the Father). However, in contemporary English “the Word was divine” (Moffatt) does not quite catch the meaning since “divine” as a descriptive term is not used in contemporary English exclusively of God. The translation “what God was the Word was” is perhaps the most nuanced rendering, conveying that everything God was in essence, the Word was too. This points to unity of essence between the Father and the Son without equating the persons. However, in surveying a number of native speakers of English, some of whom had formal theological training and some of whom did not, the editors concluded that the fine distinctions indicated by “what God was the Word was” would not be understood by many contemporary readers. Thus the translation “the Word was fully God” was chosen because it is more likely to convey the meaning to the average English reader that the Logos (which “became flesh and took up residence among us” in John 1:14 and is thereafter identified in the Fourth Gospel as Jesus) is one in essence with God the Father. The previous phrase, “the Word was with God,” shows that the Logos is distinct in person from God the Father.

sn And the Word was fully God. John’s theology consistently drives toward the conclusion that Jesus, the incarnate Word, is just as much God as God the Father. This can be seen, for example, in texts like John 10:30 (“The Father and I are one”), 17:11 (“so that they may be one just as we are one”), and 8:58 (“before Abraham came into existence, I am”). The construction in John 1:1c does not equate the Word with the person of God (this is ruled out by 1:1b, “the Word was with God”); rather it affirms that the Word and God are one in essence.

tn Grk “answered and said to him.”

sn Should Thomas’ exclamation be understood as two subjects with the rest of the sentence omitted (“My Lord and my God has truly risen from the dead”), as predicate nominatives (“You are my Lord and my God”), or as vocatives (“My Lord and my God!”)? Probably the most likely is something between the second and third alternatives. It seems that the second is slightly more likely here, because the context appears confessional. Thomas’ statement, while it may have been an exclamation, does in fact confess the faith which he had previously lacked, and Jesus responds to Thomas’ statement in the following verse as if it were a confession. With the proclamation by Thomas here, it is difficult to see how any more profound analysis of Jesus’ person could be given. It echoes 1:1 and 1:14 together: The Word was God, and the Word became flesh (Jesus of Nazareth). The Fourth Gospel opened with many other titles for Jesus: the Lamb of God (1:29, 36); the Son of God (1:34, 49); Rabbi (1:38); Messiah (1:41); the King of Israel (1:49); the Son of Man (1:51). Now the climax is reached with the proclamation by Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” and the reader has come full circle from 1:1, where the author had introduced him to who Jesus was, to 20:28, where the last of the disciples has come to the full realization of who Jesus was. What Jesus had predicted in John 8:28 had come to pass: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he” (Grk “I am”). By being lifted up in crucifixion (which led in turn to his death, resurrection, and exaltation with the Father) Jesus has revealed his true identity as both Lord (κύριος [kurios], used by the LXX to translate Yahweh) and God (θεός [qeos], used by the LXX to translate Elohim).