Today we begin the Gospel of John. It is almost certainly written by the Apostle John. Scholar’s vary as to when the it was written and are basically split between the AD 60’s or approximately AD 90. What is clear is the John’s gospel is a later theological reflection on the teachings of Jesus. It seems that after the Resurrection the one thing the Apostles didn’t initially understand was that the return of Jesus would not occur in their lifetime. When they realized this is when the writings that constitute the gospels were made. John was the last Apostle to die and the only one not martyred. It is likely that John would have had access to the manuscripts of the other gospels. John seems to be intentionally filling in other aspects of the story as it becomes clear to him that the second coming will not be within his lifetime.
The opening paragraphs of the Gospel are probably one of the greatest works of theology ever and some of the most recognizable verses in history. They are:
The Word Became Flesh
1 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.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
From the very first phrase the passage is filled with meaning. “In the beginning..” is the same way the book of Genesis starts. John is simultaneously announcing that this gospel is part of the creation story, that it precedes Genesis and yet that is also a new beginning. Further, he is basically adopting the mantle of scripture to his work.
The last phrase of the quoted section is also extremely important. John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The most common translation “dwelt among us” losses some of the historical meaning. Young’s literal translation has it as follows:
And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.
It can also be translated as “pitched his tent among us”. The variations show that this is connected to the Exodus and the Temple. During the Exodus the Ark was kept in the tabernacle and the tent of meeting. Later the Ark was moved to the tabernacle in the Temple. In those places God himself resided. From the outset John is making a bold and provocative statement. Jesus Christ is God in the Flesh.
The first sentence of the passage is the most profound. It is actually a beautiful exposition of how and why that God is a Trinity. Here is the phrase again.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
We can see immediately that there was the Word and it was with God – thus they are two separate things. However, the Word is God – so it is the same. What we accept readily the first people who read must have puzzled over endlessly.
If we think carefully about the verse we can understand it in this way. Strictly speaking God the Father is pure spirit. He does not have a mouth and therefore, while he can certainly make himself heard, he does not use “words”. Thus, we could think of the verse in this way:
In the beginning was the THOUGHT, and the THOUGHT was with God, and the THOUGHT was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In other words, God simply thinks creation into existence. All things are created through God thinking them into existence. And God’s thought of this himself, his innate perfect self-knowledge and perfect self-understanding, being perfect, has all the same characteristics as God. It is separate but simultaneously it is eternally begotten by the Father who has always and forever known himself perfectly.