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John 1 — John Was a Jew

J. Dan Gill

Post-biblical Gentile Christians famously imposed their idea of an ancient or eternal being called the “Word” on their interpretations of John’s prologue ( John 1:1–3, 14). As we have seen, out of the resulting confusion eventually came the now popular idea that John was indicating there are two who are the eternal God: God himself (the Father), plus the supposed eternal “Word” who was also fully God.

But for God’s true people of old, it was easier to say, “The sun rises in the west,”[1] than to propose that there is anyone who is the eternal God other than the Father. John was a Jew. He was not a Greek philosopher. The language John uses in his prologue is not in and of itself philosophical or mysterious. The Greek term logos (word) is used over 300 times in the New Testament and is found in the synoptics.[2] It regularly indicates the spoken or personal word of God and of others. It is used similarly in the Septuagint.

John’s understanding about God and his word was in harmony with his ancestors and the Old Testament — not with the Hellenistic Greek philosophy of the Gentiles. He did not quote Heraclitus, Plato, or other Greek philosophers. He did not quote Philo of Alexandria or other Hellenized Jewish philosophers who — with disastrous results — strove to reconcile Jewish religion with Greek philosophy.[3]

What John did quote was the Old Testament. When we look at it as source material for John’s writings, we find that it repeatedly references God’s own word — never a person they called the “Word.” Again, in those Scriptures God’s spoken/personal word is noted around 400 times. That is opposed to -0- times for a person they called “The Word.”

As a disciple of the Jewish Messiah, John’s roots ran deep in the Old Testament. He was wholly dedicated to the absolute monotheism of his fathers. When reading John, anyone who does not have his Old Testament background fully in view will inevitably fail to grasp the meaning of his words. Like God’s people before him, John’s faith was anchored in the essential fact that only one individual is the God of the universe: YHWH himself. Jesus is not YHWH. It was in fact John who recorded Jesus’ great declaration that his Father is the only true God and that he, Jesus, is the Christ, God’s Messiah:

Father … this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent ( John 17:3).[4]

As John wrote his prologue, he knew the Old Testament Scriptures and was familiar with the hundreds of times in which God’s word was referenced in them. John knew that it was by God’s spoken word that he created in Genesis; his personal word by which he enlightened his people through the ages. John knew that in the entire Old Testament there is no instance of a person called the “Word.”

With all of these things in mind, we can know two things with certainty regarding John: (1) When he is speaking of the one true God of the universe, it is the Father alone who is that God.[5] (2) When John is writing about God’s word, he is not thinking about an ancient or eternal being in addition to the Father. He’s thinking of the Father’s own spoken word — his personal word.

This way of looking at the opening statements of John’s Gospel is both scriptural and sensible: Scriptural in that the entire Hebrew Bible aligns with that view. It is sensible in that it does not contradict the essential principle that there is one eternal God and only one individual who is that God. Christians of John’s day would have been comfortable with him writing about God creating the world by his spoken word. Likewise, they would have been entirely at ease with John writing that the Father is the only one who is truly God. On the other hand, those same early Christians would have been alarmed by the later notions of a second creator and the concept of a supposed person who was the eternal God along with the Father.

“With God”

As a Jew, John understood a principle which often eludes Gentile Christians to this day: In the Bible, aspects of a person are said to be “with” him or her. John knew the Scriptures in which God’s wisdom is personified as a woman who was “with” him at the time of creation (Prov. 8). He also knew the Scriptures that taught God’s word is with him; that it “goes forth out of his mouth,” and accomplishes his purposes (Isa. 55:11).

Post-biblical Gentile Christians thought that if the word is “with God” ( John 1:1, 2), that would mean that it must be a person. Quite to the contrary, such language was a way of expressing the relationship of an individual to his or her own characteristics. The Scriptures tell us that one may even commune or speak with one’s own heart (Ps. 77:6; Eccl. 1:16). Yet one’s heart is not a person in addition to the one whose heart it is. Likewise, God’s word is not a person in addition to the Father himself. God’s word was “with” (pros) God ( John1:1) in the same sense that Paul wanted the word — the truth of the gospel — to remain “with” (pros) the Christians in Galatia (Gal. 2:5). A person is not indicated in either case.

The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon recognizes the concept of a person’s own characteristics as being “with” (Heb. im, et) him or her. The lexicon specifies that this is a Hebrew idiom which is indicative of “a thought or purpose present with one … operating in his mind.”[6] So it is with God:

With God are wisdom and strength; he has counsel and understanding ( Job 12:13).

Wisdom and strength are “with” God. Yet these are not persons who reside with the Father. Rather, they are characteristics of the Father. Likewise, he “has” counsel and understanding. But these are also aspects of him. If characteristics of God are separate persons from the Father, then how many such persons might we find? If God’s word is a person, then are his voice which is to be obeyed (Deut. 13:4) and his mouth (1 Kings 13:21) by which he speaks?

It is rightly said that wisdom, strength, counsel, and understanding are “with” God. It can also be said that they really “are” God.[7] These things are features or properties of his, not additional beings. They are him in the sense that they are ways that God eternally is. It is in that same way that God’s word is with him and in reality is him. When the Scripture tells us “God’s word is forever settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89), it is not talking about a person with Deity, nor a created being. It is God’s own personal word that is forever established there. The word of God is no more a separate person from the Father than the word of Jesus is a person in addition to Jesus or Peter’s word was another besides Peter himself.

Likewise, John would be the last to propose that someone called the “Word” was involved with God in creating the world. As a faithful Jew,[8] John knew that the Father had declared in the Scriptures that he created alone — by himself:

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things; I alone stretched forth the heavens. I spread out the earth by myself ” (Isa. 44:24).

And the Father did those things personally — not by an agent:

This is what the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, says: “By my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth; its people and the animals that are on it. I give it to whomever I please” ( Jer. 27:4, 5).[9]

The Father created by his own “great power,” his own “outstretched arm.” He spoke, and at his word creation came to be. Again, that is why we call him “Father.”

To attribute creation to anyone other than the Father is once again to “rob God.” It gives honor to a supposed person which is due the Father alone as our Creator. John would be grieved to find people attributing to a theologically created being called the “Word” what the Father actually did by the power of his own spoken word. John would be mortified to find people using his writings in their attempts to make such a point.

In his prologue, John is repeating what the prophets of old had been saying about God’s word down through the centuries. It is the same message we find from others in the New Testament. They too saw God’s spoken word — his personal word — as the means by which he created:

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made from things which are visible (Heb. 11:3).

“Made Flesh”

It was not an ancient or eternal being called the “Word” who became flesh — it was the Father’s own word.[10] John did not come to bring a different definition of the word of God from that which had already existed among God’s true people of old. Rather, he came to tell the world what God had now so excellently done with his word. John wanted everyone to know that the one true God has ultimately embodied his word in a particular human being — Jesus Christ! It is he who now speaks for God. John’s essential message to the world is, “Let all humanity hear Jesus!”

In their confusion, Gentile Christians were effectively reading John backwards. When John wrote about God’s word, he said that it was with him in the beginning and that it “became flesh” in the person Jesus Christ. Gentile Christians instead took the person of Jesus and transposed him onto God’s word in the beginning.[11] But John did not say that “Jesus” or “the Son” or “Christ” was with God in the beginning. He does not say that “Christ” made the world or that “Christ” became flesh. He could have written exactly those things if they had been true. But it is not a being called “Christ” who became flesh in John’s prologue. Rather, it was God’s word which became flesh in Christ: God’s human son.[12] Esteemed professor Colin Brown of Fuller Theological Seminary writes:

It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John’s Gospel to read it as if it said: “In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God and the Son was God.” What has happened here is the substitution Son for Word (Greek logos), and [by this backwards reasoning] the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning.[13]

It is not an ancient or eternal being named Jesus who became flesh.[14] It was God’s spoken word which became flesh in the man Jesus. Jesus is not what God’s word was in the beginning. He is what God’s word became in the life of a human being.[15]

With the introduction of a supposed ancient or eternal being called the “Word,” Gentile Christians were effectively creating a new Creator. What was really the Father’s own spoken word was imagined to be a second person who shares with God the honor of being our Creator. This was unthinkable to God’s true people of old. The cost of this change in theology was ultimately the unconscionable breaking away of post biblical Christianity from the absolute monotheism of God’s prophets, of Jesus himself, and his early disciples.

John’s writings about God’s word are wonderful. They are in agreement with the prophets of old who saw only one individual — YHWH himself — as being God. Rightly understood, John upholds God’s first priority and his prime directive.[16] His writings bring the age-old mystery of God’s word — its dynamics and power — to a culmination in Jesus, his only begotten human son. God’s prophets and people of old would never have read John’s writings and imagined that he was introducing an ancient or eternal person called the “Word.”[17] It took Gentile Christians after the Bible was written to read that idea back into John.[18]

The real Jesus was born in the days of Herod the Great. God embodied his word in him so perfectly that it is said that God’s word “became flesh” in Jesus. On the other hand, the imagined ancient or eternal “Word-person” who was supposedly a separate being from the Father was not created until the centuries after the Bible was written. “He” was the theological brainchild of Gentile Christians who were out of touch with God’s prophets and his people of old.

With God’s word as a separate individual,
Gentile Christians were effectively creating a new Creator.

The mystery of God’s word is not that it was an ancient or eternal “second person” who resided with the Father. There was no such person. The mystery is not that such a one helped God create the world. The Father alone is our Creator. The mystery is that while God’s word is “with” the Father, it “is” him — not another! The Father himself spoke and it was done! The wonder is that the Father could, by his own mighty word, cause creation, enlighten the lives of human beings, and ultimately bring his great plans for humanity to his Messiah after he was born. The marvel is that God would so fully and completely embody his word in this man that we can call him, “The Word of God.” If it is the truth that we seek, we need look no further: We have found it in the life and teachings of Jesus!

Gill, J. Dan (2016). The Word of God. In, The One: In Defense of God (pp. 129-136). Nashville, TN: 21st Century Reformation Publishing.


[1] That is to borrow a line from George Martin. The fuller quotation is, “When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east.”

[2] It should be noted that “word” or “word of God” is often used as a synonym for the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 9:35; 13:19; Mark 4:14; Luke 8:11).

[3] Post-biblical Gentile Christians were particularly influenced by Philo. They lost sight of Jesus as a Jew and of the Jewishness of his early disciples, and were taken with Philo the Jewish philosopher. We find them reinterpreting Jesus and John in light of Philo and Plato.

[4] Or, “You, Father, are the only one who is truly God.” Also note John 5:44 where Jesus speaks of the Father as “the one who alone is God” (NLT, NRSV), or “Him who alone is God” (Amplified).

[5] John of course uses theos to refer to the gods of the nations. On rare occasions (2 or 3 times), he uses the word “God” in its honorific sense for human beings. This is particularly of the Messiah ( John 1:18(?), 10:33–36 and perhaps 20:28). For more on this use of “God” (from el/elohim and theos), see chapter 9 of this book.

[6] Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), 768. Also note Job 10:13: “I know that this was with you.” NIV, “in your mind.”

[7] Prov. 23:7: “as a man thinks in his heart so is he” (Amplified, NASB).

[8] Again, there were Hellenized Jews such as Philo who speculated on God creating only indirectly through intermediate “Powers.” However Philo does not seem to have a clear and consistent view regarding that. In Philo, sometimes these “Powers” seem like agents who do God’s bidding, and at other times just God’s own personal powers.

[9] Also note Job 9:8: “who alone stretched out the heavens” (NRSV).

[10] “The word was God.” To say that the word was the Father does not mean that the Father himself literally became flesh. Again, aspects of God can come “upon” or “into” people. That does not impart the quality of “being God” to those people. Jesus even goes so far as to say the Father dwells “in me” ( John 14:10). Yet he never claims that he himself actually is the Father (God).

[11] An example of the backwards reading of “Christ” into John’s opening statements is found in The Living Bible paraphrase which gives, “There was Christ, with God.” The Amplified adds “Christ” as commentary: “In the beginning was the Word (Christ).” It is not an overstatement to say that by eisegesis (reading into the text, rather than exegesis, reading what is actually in the text) there has been wide-scale corruption of John’s words in the opening of the Gospel. If John meant to say “Christ” he could have said it. He did not.

[12] Clearly, God did not speak in ages past by his son. The writer of Hebrews tells us that God “spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days has spoken to us in a son” (Heb. 1:1, 2).

[13] Colin Brown, D.D., Ex Auditu, 7, 1991, 88, 89.

[14] It was perhaps one of the most foolish of theological errors when Gentile Christians in post-biblical times set out to find their missing person called the “Word” in the Old Testament. In the absence of clear examples of a person called the “Word,” they began imposing their notion of “Word” back onto the lives of individual angels and men who lived in Old Testament times. Perhaps most desperate of all, they even confused their idea of a separate “Word-person” with YHWH himself. Thus, they found themselves proposing the impossible: that there are two YHWHs! Recognizing the weakness of these approaches, they have tended to retreat to the more convenient explanation that it was all just “a mystery.”

[15] The correct Jewish view can easily be seen from Scriptures like Proverbs 8, Isa. 55:11, etc. There are also grounds for this same understanding in the Apocrypha. Note particularly Ecclesiasticus 24 where wisdom/Torah is sent to pitch camp in Israel, and Wisdom 9, where God makes the world by his logos. Lady wisdom also reappears in both of those books.

[16] It hardly seems necessary here to take up the Johannine Comma (the three heavenly witnesses of 1 John 5:7). There is a great mass of literature on that text and a broad consensus exists even among Trinitarian scholars that the reading of the Textus Receptus is not what John actually wrote at that point. Even the Roman Catholic American Standard Bible (1970) and the New Vulgate (1979) omit “the comma.” Simply put, John did not speak of logos in that text.

[17] For an overview of the question of preexistence in the writings of John see Dr. Dustin Smith, “John and Jewish Preexistence: An Attempt to Responsibly Set the Christology of the Fourth Gospel in its Proper Historical and Theological Matrix of Thought.”

[18] This reading of the person of Jesus back into the beginning of John’s prologue has been promoted through the bias of translators. For example, churchgoers today are often unaware that translators have taken liberties by capitalizing “word” in John 1:1, etc. The capitalizations give the reader the impression that a proper noun is indicated. Of course, in the Greek language of John’s day there were no upper/lower case distinctions. Translators ignore their own inconsistency of capitalizing “word” here while not capitalizing it in the vast majority of its occurrences in the New Testament and in the Old Testament. With regard to personal pronouns in John 1, if it is understood that God’s word is a personification in John’s prologue, then masculine personal pronouns could be expected even though a literal person is not intended (c.f. Prov. 8:1–3; “her,” “she”). In any event, the use of masculine personal pronouns in John 1:2–5 by Trinitarian translators reflects a bias. The Greek autos could be translated “it” rather than “him” in these cases. Translators have created the inconsistency of rendering autos as “it” in reference to “word” in other cases in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 8:15, 21; Heb. 4:12, etc.). But for doctrinal convenience they translate it with masculine personal pronouns here. If John can be said to be his own best commentator, it should be noted that he uses neuter pronouns in 1 John 1:1–3 five times in the opening of the epistle (e.g. “that which was from the beginning”). It can be noted that not all translations have used capitalizations for “word” in John 1, nor have all used “him” to translate autos. Among those has been the venerable “Tyndale,” which gives “word” and “it.”

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