In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5)

This is undoubtedly one of the Trinitarians favourite proof-texts, which explains their habitual misreading of it. John says ‘the Word was God’ but many Trinitarians cannot avoid the temptation to read ‘Jesus was God’, even though it says ‘Word’.

‘But “Word” is just another name for Jesus’, responds the Trinitarian, ‘John is just being enigmatic’. But if this were the case, why call Jesus ‘Word’ here and call him ‘Jesus’ throughout the rest of the gospel. No, something more subtle is going on here.

It is important to point out from the start that the idea that the Word is a person is entirely the assumption of the interpreter. In Greek pronouns (e.g. he, she, it) are used rarely, they are usually implied by the verb, and the gender of the follows the gender of the subject of the clause. In Greek ‘Word’ (logos) is a masculine noun and therefore the verbs in that follow logos are also masculine. However, this tells us nothing about whether the Word is a ‘he’ or ‘it’, because whichever is the case the verbs would be masculine. So we cannot start considering John 1 by looking at pronouns. Instead we need to look at what the Word would have meant to first century readers of John’s gospel.

In between the testaments there was an important concept in Jewish literature: Wisdom. This was based upon the book of Proverbs, which personifies wisdom as a woman. This concept was developed in two (non-canonical) books: Wisdom of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) and Wisdom of Solomon. These two books are not scripture, but they are important because they tell us about the concepts that would have been familiar to the early Christians. In these books Wisdom is described as being spoken by God (Sirach 24:3) and is called ‘Word’ (logos; Wisdom 9:1-2).

John’s account of the Word parallels these earlier discourses about Wisdom. For instance, Wisdom is said to have been active at Creation (Proverbs 8:22, 30; 3:19-20; Sirach 42:21; Wisdom 9:1-2, 9). However, Wisdom is consistently personified as a female, i.e. ‘she’ (Proverbs 7:4; Sirach 4:11, 6:22; Wisdom 6:12-21). To the first century Jew there would have been no problem in saying that ‘the Word was God’, because Wisdom was not seen as a separate person or a second God but as an expression of God. So when John says ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’, he was not saying anything that anything first century Jewish monotheist could not say ‘amen’ to, because they knew what he was talking about.

The radical part of John’s introduction is to say that this Word became flesh (John 1:14), that Jesus was this embodiment of this Word/Wisdom. It may seem very weird to modern readers to talk about concepts like wisdom as though they were people and then having it made into a human baby, but as we have seen this kind of talk would have been familiar to John’s original readers. And though John is making profound claims about Jesus, he is not saying that Jesus existed as a person before his birth and he is not saying that Jesus is God.

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5 Responses to Does John 1:1-5 mean that Jesus is God?

  1. Sothie says:

    If John didn’t mean Jesus existed before……who do other texts agree with that claim “Before Abraham was, I am!” John 8:58. And look how the jews reacted, did they get all WRONG? Why doesn’t John bother to clear up his leaders…what Jesus really meant if it meant something else? He did that before…..John cleared Jesus statement in John 7:38 with verse 39.

    Is the light mentioned in John 1:7-8 different from John 1:3-4?

    John calls Jesus the light in verse 7-8…….yet He calls Him Jesus al-most all the way ahead…..No, something more subtle is going on here too?

    Why do other texts agree with the “assumption” as you call it though John says it plainly that Jesus is God…..Acts 20:28 “Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and God which he purchased with his own blood.”…….purchased with Lord and God’s OWN Blood…..

    I will stop reading your posts if you answer me in some posts by splitting these verses to satisfy your motives…………..answer me here…….if it will be another post…take all I have said……..I want that “coherency” I have just written and dreaming of.

    • Thomas Gaston says:

      Hi Sothie, I’m sorry if you feel I am splitting verses to suit my motives. My intention is only to explain the meaning of the passage based upon the background in Jewish literature and the meaning of the Greek phrases. I am sorry if this this offends you.
      Regarding John 1, v7-8 does not say that Jesus is the light. These verses say that the Word is the light. Jesus was the Word-made-flesh (v14). When I pointed out that John doesn’t call Jesus “Word” elsewhere in his gospel, I was attempting to dispel the myth that “Word” is a name of Jesus. It isn’t. Word was a well known concept in Second Temple Judaism. John says that Jesus is the Word-made-flesh.
      Regarding John 8:58, English translations are often misleading here. The Greek does not say “I am” – that would be meaningless in Greek. The way the sentence is constructed means the translation should be “I am he”, i.e. the person we were previously taking about. This is the Son of Man (v28). The Jews do misunderstand Jesus because he says “Abraham saw my day” (v56) and they think that he means that Jesus saw Abraham (v57). It is repeated theme throughout John’s gospel that the Jews misunderstand Jesus.
      Regarding Acts 20:28, I would urge you to look at the footnotes in any good bible and you’ll see that there are textual variants for this verse. The original may not have said “church of God” but “church of the Lord”. But even if the original did say “church of God”, Jesus is God’s son so is it is accurate to say “his own blood”.
      Regarding coherency, I am not sure what you are after. I would suggest you count up the occasions that, even on your interpretation, that Jesus is called “God” in the Bible. If there are only a handful then that should tell you something. Or look up those verses where the phrase “one God” occurs in the New Testament and ask yourself is Jesus included in that phrase or is Jesus treated separately (1 Corinthians 8:6 is a good example).
      I hope that this response has come some way to satisfying you. If not, then I’m not sure what would satisfy you. As I say, I have tried to explain the meaning of the passages based upon the translation of the Greek and their literary context. I am not sure what more I could do to explain what these passages mean. If I have reached a different conclusion from you that is because that is where the evidence leads me. I am sorry if that is a problem for you.

      • Sothie says:

        This is getting funny…… glad I got your attention…and thanks for your reply. This could go on and on…….maybe let me put it this way. Do you have a Bible that you would call has the correct translation? We could be using that…I think. Because what I have seen so far is you will rush to a verse in the Bible…use it for reference..when the writing is not to your liking you say it was translated right… there a Bible that got it right for you that we could use or they all got it all wrong? Give the Bible…and we could stick to that….something credible… there any?

  2. Rico says:

    There is also a verse that says “when God created the earth, I (Jesus) was there.”

    In my view, I see a connection between the tetragrammaton and the DNA, also a four-letter sequence. Hmm…the word?

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