Study 7: The Origin of Jesus
Old Testament Prophecies of Jesus | The Virgin Birth | Christ's Place in God's Plan | "In the beginning was the word" | Digressions (The Historical Jesus, "I came down from Heaven", Did Jesus Create the Earth?, "Before Abraham was, I am", Melchizedek) | Questions
7.4 "In The Beginning Was The Word", John 1:1-3.
These verses, when properly understood, confirm and expand upon the conclusions reached in the last section. However, this passage is the one most widely misunderstood to teach that Jesus existed in heaven before his birth. A correct understanding of these verses hinges on appreciating what "the Word" means in this context. It cannot refer directly to a person, because a person cannot be "with God" and yet be God at the same time. The Greek word 'logos' which is translated "word" here, does not in itself mean 'Jesus'. It is usually translated as "word", but also as:-
The "word" is only spoken of as "he" because 'logos' is masculine in Greek. But this does not mean that it refers to the man, Jesus. The German (Luther) version speaks of "das Wort" (neuter); the French (Segond) version speaks of "la parole" as feminine, showing that "the word" does not necessarily indicate a male person.
"In The Beginning"
'Logos' can strictly refer to the inner thought which is expressed outwardly in words and other communication. In the beginning God had this 'logos'. This singular purpose was centred in Christ. We have shown how God's Spirit puts His inner thoughts into operation, hence the connection between His Spirit and His word (see Section 2.2). As God's Spirit worked out His plan with men and inspired His written Word from the beginning, it thereby communicated the idea of Christ in its working and words. Christ was the 'logos' of God, and therefore God's Spirit expressed God's plan of Christ in all its operations. This explains why so many Old Testament incidents are typical of Christ. However, it cannot be over-emphasized that Christ in person was not "the word"; it was God's plan of salvation through Christ which was "the word". 'Logos' ("the Word") is very often used concerning the Gospel about Christ - e.g. "the word of Christ" (Col. 3:16; cp. Matt. 13:19; John 5:24; Acts 19:10; 1 Thess. 1:8 etc.). Notice that the 'logos' is about Christ, rather than him personally. When Christ was born, this "word" was turned into a flesh and blood form - "the word was made flesh" (John 1:14). Jesus personally was 'the word made flesh' rather than "the word"; he personally became "the word" through his birth of Mary, rather than at any time previously.
The plan, or message, about Christ was with God in the beginning, but was openly revealed in the person of Christ, and the preaching of the Gospel about him in the first century. Thus God spoke His word to us through Christ (Heb. 1:1,2). Time and again it is emphasized that Christ spoke God's words and did miracles at God's word of command in order to reveal God to us (John 2:22; 3:34; 7:16; 10:32,38; 14:10,24).
Paul obeyed Christ's command to preach the Gospel about him "to all nations": "The preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest...made known to all nations" (Rom. 16:25,26 cp. 1 Cor. 2:7). Eternal life was only made possible for man through the work of Christ (John 3:16; 6:53); yet in the beginning God had this plan to offer man eternal life, knowing as He did the sacrifice which Jesus would make. The full revelation of that offer only came after the birth and death of Jesus: "Eternal life, which God...promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested his word (of life) through preaching" (Titus 1:2,3). We have seen how God's prophets are spoken of as always existing (Luke 1:70) in the sense that "the word" which they spoke existed with God from the beginning.
The parables of Jesus revealed many of these things; he thereby fulfilled the prophecy concerning himself, "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 13:35). It was in this sense that "the word was with God...in the beginning", to be "made flesh" at Christ's birth.
"The Word Was God"
We are now in a position to consider in what sense "the Word was God". Our plans and thoughts are fundamentally us. 'I am going to London' is a 'word' or communication which expresses my purpose, because it is my purpose. God's plan in Christ can be understood likewise. "As (a man) thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7), and as God thinks, so is He. Thus God's word or thinking is God: "the word was God". Because of this, there is a very close association between God and His word: parallelisms like Ps.29:8 are common: "The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness". Statements like "Ye have not hearkened unto Me, saith the Lord" (Jer. 25:7) are common in the prophets. Effectively God means 'You have not listened to My word spoken by the prophets'. David took the word of God as his lamp and light (Ps. 119:105), yet he also reflected: "Thou art my lamp, O Lord: and the Lord will lighten my darkness" (2 Sam. 22:29), showing the parallel between God and His word. It is understandable, therefore, that God's word is personified as He Himself, i.e. it is spoken of as though it is a person although it is not (see Digression 5 'The Principle of Personification').
God is truth itself (John 3:33; 8:26; 1 John 5:10), and therefore God's word is truth also (John 17:17). In a similar way Jesus identifies himself with his words so closely that he personifies his word: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). Jesus speaks of his word as if it is an actual person, i.e. himself. His words were personified, because they were so closely associated with Jesus.
God's word is likewise personified as a person, i.e. God Himself, in John 1:1-3. Thus we are told concerning the Word, "All things were made by Him" (John 1:3). However "God created" all things by His word of command (Gen. 1:1). Because of this, God's Word is spoken of as if it is God Himself. The devotional point to note from this is that through God's word being in our heart, God can come so close to us.
It is evident from Gen. 1 that God was the Creator, through His word, rather than Christ personally. It was the word which is described as making all things, rather than Christ personally (John 1:1-3). "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them (i.e. the stars) by the breath of his mouth...he spake, and it was done" (Ps. 33:6,9). Even now it is by His word that the natural creation operates: "He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool...He sendeth out his word...and the waters flow" (Ps. 147:15-18).
God's word being His creative power, He used it in the begettal of Jesus in Mary's womb. The Word, God's plan put into operation by His Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), brought about Christ's conception. Mary recognized this in her response to the news about her forthcoming conception of Christ: "Be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38).
We have seen that God's Word/Spirit reflects His purpose, which had been stated throughout the Old Testament. The degree to which this is true is shown in Acts 13:27, where Jesus is spoken of as parallel to the words of the Old Testament prophets: "(The Jews) knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets". When Christ was born, all of God's Word/Spirit was expressed in the person of Jesus Christ. Under inspiration, the apostle John exulted in how God's plan of eternal life had been expressed in Christ, whom the disciples had been able to physically handle and see. He now recognized that they had been handling the Word of God, His whole plan of salvation in Christ (1 John 1:1-3). Whilst we cannot physically see Christ, we, too, can rejoice that through a true understanding of him, we can so intimately know God's purpose with us and thereby be assured of eternal life (1 Peter 1:8,9). We must ask ourselves the question: 'Do I really know Christ?' Just accepting that a good man called Jesus once existed is not enough. Through continued, prayerful Bible study, it is possible to quickly understand him as your personal Saviour and relate yourself to him through baptism.
Footnote: "In the beginning was the Word" probably comments on the Jewish concept that the Torah (the five books of Moses) existed before creation. Jn. 1:1-3 is saying that the important thing to appreciate is that those words of God prophesied about Jesus; God's plan about him existed before creation (cp. Lk. 1:70).