John 1:1, 14 — the Wisdom and Word of God Expressed

We propose that John’s meaning is as follows:

In the beginning there was a divine word and it was stored in God’s heart and was his own creative self-expression. All things came into being through that divine word and without it nothing was made that was made . . . And the word / plan became flesh — was realized in a human person and dwelt among us.

That living expression of God’s intimate purpose for mankind was Jesus Christ, the human person supernaturally conceived as the Son of God. Jesus is thus the expression, as Paul said, of the wisdom of God, “that hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world to our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7). Jesus thought of his own activity as the expression of wisdom, with which he equates himself: “I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes . . . ” (Matt. 23:34) the same saying is reported by Luke: “For this reason the wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and Apostles . . . ” (Luke 11:49). Jesus is indeed the expression of “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 2:24).

The Views of Modern Scholars

Contemporary scholars are coming to the same conclusion about John’s opening words. Here are some renderings of John 1:1, 14 and comments which do not require the word to be a person before the birth of Jesus.

In the beginning there was the divine word and wisdom. The divine wisdom and word was there with God and it was what God was. (The Complete Gospels)[8]

In the beginning there was the Message. The Message was with God and the Message was deity. He was with God in the beginning. (Simple English Bible)

At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning. (Phillips New Testament in Plain English)[9]

In the beginning was the Word (the Logos, the expressed concept, here personified). (The Authentic New Testament)[10] In the beginning was God’s purpose, and this purpose was revealed in a historical encounter.[11]

“The Word,” said John, “became flesh.” We could put it in another way — “the Mind of God became a person.”[12]

C. C. Torrey translates John 1:1c, “the word was god.”[13] The professor aims with this rendering to tell us that the word has the quality of God but is not identical with God. His sensitivity to the nuances of the Greek is shared by James Denny who discussed the clause “The word was God”:

As for your remark that you missed an unequivocal statement that Jesus is God, I feel inclined to say that such a statement seems unattractive to me just because it is impossible to make it unequivocal. It is not the true way to say a true thing . . . The NT says that theos een o logos [the word was God], but it does not say o logos een o theos [the word was the one God], and it is this last which is really suggested to the English mind by “Jesus is God.” . . . Probably the aversion I have to such an expression as Jesus is God is linguistic as much as theological. We are so thoroughly monotheistic now that the word God, to put it pedantically, has ceased to be an appellative and has become a proper noun: it identifies the being to whom it is applied so that it can stand as the subject of a sentence. In Greek, in the first century, it was quite different. You could say then “Jesus is Theos.” But the English equivalent of that is not “Jesus is God” (with a capital G), but, I say it as a believer in his true deity, Jesus is god (with a small g) — not a god, but a being in whom is the nature of the One God . . . Jesus is God is the same thing as Jesus=God. Jesus is a man as well as God, in some ways therefore both less and more than God; and consequently a form of proposition which in our idiom suggests inevitably the precise equivalence of Jesus and God does some injustice to the truth.[14]

A most enlightening comment comes from Dr. Norman Kraus. Dr. Kraus commends the translation of J.B. Phillips in John 1:1 and deplores the
rendering of the Living Bible which gives the impression that Jesus himself was alive before his birth.[15] He says,

The Word expressed in Jesus is the self-expression of God. Thus John tells us that from the beginning God is a self-expressive God, not transcendent and aloof as in the Greek Neo-Platonic philosophical thought which greatly influenced the orthodoxy of the fourth and fifth centuries. God is not hidden, revealing His will only in written form as in Islam’s Koran. Neither is He the silent reality which can be discovered only in the discipline of meditation beyond all human rationality as in the practice of zazen [in Buddhism]. How different the whole meaning of John’s Gospel would be if the first verse read: In the beginning was satori (enlightenment). [16]

It is interesting that a translation was made as early as 1795, by Gilbert Wakefield, which rendered John 1:3, 4: “All things were made by it and without it was nothing made.” The same translation rendered the first verse of John 1: “In the beginning was Wisdom.” There is no doubt that from the point of view of Jewish background, Wisdom and Word carried similar meanings.

A distinguished member of the team of scholars who produced the Revised Version of the Bible (1881) noted that “word” means “Divine Thought manifested in a human form in Jesus Christ.” He rendered verse 3:  “In it was the life and the light of men.”[17]

A leading British expert on the texts of the Bible, Dr. Hort, admitted tha even in John’s Gospel there is no clear statement that the Son of God existed before his historical birth in Bethlehem: “An antecedent [i.e., preexistent] Fatherhood and Sonship within the Godhead, as distinguished from the manifested Sonship in the Incarnation is nowhere enunciated by John in express words.”[18]

These examples from the pens of leading Christian analysts of the Bible show that it is entirely legitimate to think of “word” as God’s utterance, not His Son at that stage of history. The Son is in fact what the word became. Thus the Son is the visible human expression of God’s pre-planned purpose. There was no Son of God until the Messiah was conceived in history. Before that God had His Design and Plan “with Him,” in His heart.


[8] Robert Miller, Annotated Scholars version, Revised, Harper, San Francisco, 1994.

[9] These two versions equivocate by insisting on the personal pronoun “he” for Message and expression.

[10] Hugh Schonfield.

[11] R.M. Grant, D.D., The Early Christian Doctrine of God, Macmillian, 1950. Dr. Grant is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Divinity School, University of Chicago.

[12] William Barclay, Gospel of John, Saint Andrews Press, 1957, Vol. 1, 14.

[13] The Four Gospels, A New Translation, New York: Harper, 1947.

[14] Letters of Principal James Denny to W. Robertson Nicoll, 1893 – 1917, Hodder and Stoughton, 1920, 121-125. While Denny retains his belief in the Trinity for reasons of his own, his testimony stands as evidence against a tradition of translation which has promoted belief in the Trinity on the part of many others. Such evidence has often been ignored by Trinitarians who are less cautious in their approach to translation.

[15] “Before anything else existed, there was Christ with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. He created everything there is — nothing exists that he didn’t make.”This is an obvious contradiction of Isaiah 44:24 and fifty other texts ascribing creation to the LORD alone.

[16] Jesus Christ Our Lord; Herald Press, 1987, 105.

[17] The Bible and Popular Theology, Dr. G. Vance Smith, 159. Dr. Smith was a non-Trinitarian member of the RV translating committee.

[18] Dissertation, 1876, 16.