John 1:1 – Caveat Lector (Reader Beware)

Anthony Buzzard

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew[1] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified [i.e. he gave them glory in intention, not yet in reality] (Rom. 8:28-30; cf. Eph. 1:3-10).

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenlies with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will [the mystery of the Kingdom] according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Christ (Eph. 1:3-10).

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law to ransom those who are under the Law in order that we might receive the full status of sons. To show that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, an heir also, by God’s own act (Gal. 4:4-7; Translator’s Translation).

God has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:9, 10).

In the hope of the life of the age to come which God who cannot lie promised before aionion times but at the proper time manifested, namely his word in the proclamation with which I was entrusted (Titus 1:2, 3a).

John and the Preexistent Purpose of God

One day a theological storm is likely to erupt over the translation of John’s prologue in our standard versions. At present the public is offered a wide range of renderings, from the purely literal to the freely paraphrased. But do these translations represent John’s intention? Or are they traditional, based on what “everyone accepts”? Have they sometimes served as a weapon in the hands of Christian orthodoxy to enforce the decisions of post-biblical creeds and councils? The seeker after Truth of the Berean style (Acts 17:11) should investigate all things carefully.

According to the findings of a recent monumental study of the origin of Christ in the Bible, Bible-readers instinctively hear the text of John 1:1 as follows: “In the beginning was Jesus and Jesus was with God and Jesus was God,” or “In the beginning was the Son and the Son was with the Father . . . ”[2]

This reading of the passage provides vital support for the traditional doctrine of the Godhead, shared equally by Father and Son from eternity. Paraphrased versions sometimes go far beyond the Greek original. The Contemporary English Version interprets John to mean that two beings were present at the beginning. “The Word was the One who was with God.” No doubt, according to that translation, the Word would be equivalent to an eternal Son. It would certainly be understood in that sense by those schooled on the post-biblical creeds.

But why, Kuschel asks, do readers leap from “word” to “Son”? The text simply reads. “In the beginning was the word,” not “In the beginning was the Son.” The substitution of “Son” for “word,” which for millions of readers appears to be an automatic reflex, has had dramatic consequences. It has exercised a powerful, even mesmerizing influence on Bible-readers. But the text does not warrant the switch. Again, John wrote: “In the beginning was the word.” He did not say, “In the beginning was the Son of God.” There is, in fact, no direct mention of the Son of God until we come to verse 14, where “the word [not the Son] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of a unique Son, full of grace and truth.” Until verse 14 there is no mention of a Son. The Son is what the word became, but what is the word?

Imagine I told my child, “Our car was once in the head of its designer, and now here it is in our garage.” The child might respond: “How could that car fit into the head of the designer? It would be too big.” Fair point, but it is based on a large misunderstanding. The application to our problem in John 1:1 is simply this: The fact that the word became the man Jesus, the Son of God, does not necessarily or automatically imply that Jesus, the Son of God is one-to-one equivalent to the word before Jesus’ birth. What if the word, the self-expression of God, became embodied in, was manifested in, the man Jesus? That makes very good sense of John 1:14. It also avoids the fearful, never-resolved complexities of Trinitarianism by which there are two or three who are fully and equally God. If my thought is right, John will have been speaking about a preexisting divine Purpose not a second divine person.

It is commonly known to Bible readers that in Proverbs 8 wisdom was “with [Hebrew, etzel; LXX, para] God.” That is to say, God’s wisdom is personified. It is treated as if it were a person, not that “Lady Wisdom” was really a female personage alongside God. We accept this sort of language, usually without any confusion. We do not suppose that “Prudence,” who is said to be dwelling with “Wisdom” (Prov. 8:12), was herself literally a person. When the famous St. Louis Arch was finally completed after several years of construction a documentary film announced that “the plan had become flesh.” The plan, in other words, was now in physical form. But the arch is not one-to-one equivalent with the plans on the drawing board. The arch is made of concrete, the plans were drawn on paper.


[1] Jesus himself was foreknown (1 Pet. 1:20).

[2] Karl-Josef Kuschel, Born Before All Time: The Debate about the Origin of Christ, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992, 381.