Here I am going to do a brief, partial exegesis of John 1:1 in this article. Afterwards, my intention is to go farther past John 1:1 to exegete the rest of the prologue of John to get the clearest idea of what John is communicating to us. Originally, I set out here to do all of these things in one article, but the further I dove into it, the more I realized that John 1:1 is so packed full of theology that it needs a treatise all to itself, and that is what we are endeavoring to do here. From this point, we can go on to read the rest of the prologue and the gospel of John in a right manner.
I truly believe it is in John 1:1 we get the clearest expression of the nature of God in Scripture. I’m not speaking here of His attributes (for that, I would say Isaiah 39-49 offer His majestic attributes), but rather of His nature as both plural and one at the same time. As I see it, getting John 1:1 right is key to the gospel. As Jesus says later in John 8:24, that unless we believe in the truth about who he is, we will die in our sins. Is Christ the Son–the second person of the divine Trinity? Is he a god among a pantheon of gods? Is he an arch-angel? Is he simply another prophet? Is he a mode, or title of God the Father? John 1:1 will tell us ultimately, and for this purpose, we are doing this brief exegesis.
When I say “brief exegesis” what I’m saying is that I am diving into the Greek of the passage, but not the entire passage, as there is so much in John 1 to unpack, it would take me numerous articles to do it. I want to focus on the question that titles this article: Who is the Logos? That is what John is asking in his prologue, and that is the focus of our time here.
The Eternal Logos
There are three major clauses just in John 1:1 that we have to look at. If we miss this, we miss everything in John’s gospel about who Jesus is. We begin with the first clause, which will tell us the nature of the Logos. I am going to highlight the first clause, since that’s what we will be focusing on for this section:
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.John 1:1
This is John 1:1 in the Greek, which we will break down here. First, what I want to do is give a brief lesson in the language (based on what I’ve learned so far). Many people think all they need to “exegete” the Greek is to find the word of interest in English, look it up in Greek, such as Strong’s Concordance, and what they do is look at the root word, and use that, or whichever definition comes from the root word. That’s not proper handling of the Greek. Knowing a Greek word does not give you credibility with the language. This is true with any language, even English.
The reality is that languages function on systemic principles; root words change depending on how they function in a sentences. That’s the same for English, and it is no different in Greek. This is important to know, especially in dealing with the cults that try to use the Greek to their advantage. We can’t just zero in on one word we like; we have to see the word in its modification that determines how it’s being used in the sentence, and we must also pay attention to the cases of the nouns and pronouns.
In John 1:1, a total of five nouns are in use. The word “Logos” (λόγος) is used three times, “theon” (θεόν) once, and “theos” (θεὸς) once. The λόγος is translated into the English “Word”. It’s basic meaning is messenger, speech, utterance, or reason. The word θεὸς is the Greek root word for “God”. With the nouns identified for us in English, notice something peculiar about how we have two forms of the word for God in Greek; why is λόγος just λόγος but we have θεόν and θεὸς?
This is one of the points I made above, which is that we must pay attention to the modified words. The root word for God is “theos” (θεὸς); we have a modified version of theos in “theon” (θεόν). This is because “theos” while the root is also the nominative form of theos. Additionally, “logos” is the nominative case form of logos. The nominative case indicates the subject of the sentence. That is to say, whatever verbs or adverbs the sentence is using, they are about the noun in the nominative case.
So in John 1:1, what is the subject? The Logos. But we also see theos in a nominative case, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right now, let’s see what John 1:1 is telling us about the Logos. What we translate as “was” from John 1:1, the Greek has instead ἦν (en). This is the active, imperfect form of the Greek word “to be” (είμί). As Dr. James R. White writes in The Forgotten Trinity:
Through the prologue of the Gospel of John, the author balances between two verbs. When speaking of the Logos as He existed in eternity past, John uses the Greek word ἦν, en (a form of eimi). The tense of the word expresses continuous action in the past. Compare this with the verb he chooses to use when speaking of everything else–found for example, in verse 3: “All things came into being through Him,” ἐγένετο, egeneto. This verb contains the very element missing from the other: a point of origin. The term, used in contexts of creation and origin, speaks of a time when something came into existence. The first verb, en, does not.The Forgotten Trinity, Pg. 50-51.
So with the verb ἦν, and the Logos being in the nominative case, the deduction we must arrive at is that the Logos is eternal. What we can deduce therefore is that the Logos is and always was; having been existing before creation, with no origin. However, we have not finished just yet. All we know is that the Logos is eternal in nature. We don’t know yet if the Logos is personal, or what its relationship to God is. We must continue on in John 1:1.
The Distinguished Logos
Having finished with the first clause (which was, “in the beginning was the Word”), we move on to the next clause of John 1:1 and that is,
καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν,
“And the Logos was with God” as we would say in English. Just as with the first clause, there is one particular word here we want to zero in on that adds to what we know about the Logos. Firstly, notice the nominative case form of λόγος, and then ἦν. We’ve already discussed these, hence we shouldn’t need to repeat what we’ve already said. Instead, however, we should pay attention to “pros” (πρὸς) and the accusative case form of God (θεόν).
The word “pros” is a preposition which relates to the relationship between at least two parties. It’s meaning is “face to face” or “looking towards” “in close proximity of”, etc. Whichever of these forms we decide to go with, what must be presupposed for any of them to make sense? That we are dealing with at least two nouns. It makes no sense to say, “Chase was face to face with Chase”. It only makes sense if I was face to face with someone else. That is in essence what “pros” is telling us here. In any instance it is used, it always presupposes two parties, or agents in discussion.
Thus when the Logos is “with” God, what must we conclude based on the Greek? That John is telling us the Logos has a distinction from God. There simply is no other way to understand this in light of the preposition “pros”. On a final note, remember the verb ἦν is in this clause as well, and based on its usage in the passage, the conclusion must be drawn that this relationship the Logos has towards God is eternal.
What do we derive therefore from the second clause in relation to the first? That the eternal Logos is eternally with God, distinct from Him in some manner.
The Logos is God
Now for the final clause,
καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
The literal rendering would be, “and God was the Logos”. The statement is plain and clear: the Logos is God (as most English translations put it). What’s important to note here is the article ὁ (ho) before the Logos. That is what we often translate into English as our article “the”. ὁ is not present in any of the other times the nouns are mentioned in John 1:1. Why? Because John is being remarkably specific here, and that’s why we’re devoting a single article just to the first verse; John wants us to make no mistake about his meaning in any way shape or form.
Remember what I said earlier that nouns in the ancient languages like Greek and Latin often have modified case forms, and what we are seeing are at least two kinds of noun cases. The Logos always appears in its root/nominative case form. Why? As we said, because the Logos is John’s subject of the whole prologue. In the second clause, “God” is modified to come in its accusative form, indicating that God is the object of the verbs about the subject (the Logos).
But what we see in the final clause here is that God is also in the nominative case. What then? Which is the subject? This is the purpose of the article ὁ; it designates the nominative it is related to as the subject. What has been the subject all along? The Logos. Hence there is no reason to suggest John changes that; the Logos is the subject, and hence is made so by the article. Why do this? This is what we often call a predicate nominative construction. John is finishing 1:1 perfectly with this final clause in telling us just who the Logos is, and that is God.
Notice he doesn’t place the article in front of God. That would turn the entire verse inside out. It would in essence say that God’s essential nature is the Logos. If John had no article anywhere here to distinguish between the Logos and God in any way, then God and the Logos become interchangeable and renders the second clause of John 1:1 utterly meaningless and contradictory to the third; this would promote the Oneness/Modalist concept, since there is no distinction between God and the Logos. The same problem occurs if John gave both nouns the article.
But as I said before, John is very specific. He has a very important message that he wants you to see. The article comes with the Logos, indicating that the Logos’s nature is the same with God. In the Logos is found the fulness of deity (Colossians 2:9). In essence, John is saying the Logos is the eternal God, with God.
Let’s wrap up John 1:1 to end this article with what the three clauses of John 1:1 are telling us.
- The Logos is eternal.
- The Logos is distinct from God.
- The Logos is God.
This is the foundation of John’s gospel, and who the Word is. We have to be careful to keep these three clauses in mind as we continue on. You do not take these three unmistakable truths, run somewhere down the line to try and find something that conflicts with them. John has dropped a payload on us that we simply cannot ignore. If your understanding of Jesus does not meet any of the criteria above, you have the wrong Jesus, and you will miss the entirety of the gospel.
With this all in mind, we can then move on to the next article, which will be our exegesis of the Prologue of John. He has much more for us to see.