Chronological Life of Christ (002) – The Pre-Incarnate Christ

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(John 1:1-3)

It is difficult to find a good way to describe Jesus before He was Jesus. He didn’t have that name given to Him until after He was born (Matthew 1:21, 25). The same thing goes with calling Him the Son, because (regardless of what Catholic theologians claim) He did not take on a role as son until he was born.[1] It seems that John understood the potential conundrum when he began his gospel account.[2]

In the beginning was the Word

John is intentionally echoing Genesis 1:1, which starts, “In the beginning, God…” With that, and what John brings up in verses 2 and 3, it is obvious that the “beginning” under consideration is the beginning of creation. But it is more interesting even than that.

In Greek, often they leave out the definite article (in English, it is the word “the”) when there is only one of something. John actually wrote, “In beginning was the Word,” because there is only one beginning. And it is the same in Genesis 1:1—literally, “In beginning, God…”

So, not only was God [the Father] present at the beginning of creation, but so is the Word. This means the Word pre-dates time. Before anything was created, the Word existed.

Some ancient Greek writers (specifically Heraclitus) popularized the idea that everything in creation came from and was hold together by the Logos, the Greek word John uses for Word. The Stoics grabbed onto this idea, and taught that events were not random, but that they were orchestrated by the Logos. They believed the Logos is what gave someone the concept of right and wrong.

Philo, a Jewish philosopher from Alexandria Egypt, a couple hundred years before Jesus’ birth, posited that the Logos was the Reason of God. William Barclay summarizes Philo’s views this way:

In Alexandria there was a Jew called Philo who had made it the business of his life to study the wisdom of two worlds, the Jewish and the Greek. No man ever knew the Jewish scriptures as he knew them; and no Jew ever knew the greatness of Greek thought as he knew it. He too knew and used and loved this idea of the Logos, the word, the reason of God. He held that the Logos  was the oldest thing in the world and the instrument through which God had made the world. He said that the Logos was the thought of God stamped upon the universe; he talked about the Logos by which God made the world and all things; he said that God, the pilot of the universe, held the Logos as a tiller and with it steered all things. He said that man’s mind was stamped also with the Logos, that the Logos was what gave a man reason, the power to think and the power to know. He said that the Logos was the intermediary between the world and God and that the Logos was the priest who set the soul before God.[3]

So when John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word …” he was using language and ideas which were well-known in both Greek and Jewish worlds. Much like the Apostle Paul used the Athenians’ worship of “the unknown God” to teach the truth about God and Jesus, John uses the pre-existing ideas of “the Logos” as a starting point to teach the same thing.

And the Word was with God

If you just read this part, you might get the impression that there were two separate entities at creation: one of them was God, and the other was not God. But that isn’t what we see (especially as we read the rest of the verse).

The word translated “with” always shows some kind of connection. The same word (pros, in case you’re interested) is elsewhere translated against (…lest you should dash your foot against a stone”) and among (“…they began to enquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing). In each of those instances, it shows a connection or interaction.

We could legitimately translate this section, “the Word was connected to God [the Father],” or “was together with God [the Father].”

But all confusion is cleared up—or ought to be—with the last part of John 1:1.

And God was the Word.

You probably did a double-take when you saw how I worded the last part of verse 1 above. I did it that way because, literally, that is how the Greek reads. Literally, in order, it says God was the Word.

Greek is a funny language. The order of words in a Greek sentence doesn’t matter—unless you want to emphasize a specific word, in which case you put it first (like “Blessed are the pure in heart…”). You could have a 17-word sentence, and the subject might end up being the last word in the whole thing.[4] So why bring this up?

The subject of the last part of John 1:1 is The Word. But the word God is put first in order, meaning the God-ness of the Word (the Logos) is what John is emphasizing.

So, who is this mysterious Logos, the Word? That answer is simple enough, because verse 14 says:

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Who is called “God with us” (Matthew 1:23-25)? Who is called God’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16)? The Word is how John describes Jesus.

If you’ve ever seen a Jehovah’s Witness Bible (the New World Translation), you may have seen how they mistranslate this verse to say, “And the Word was a god.” Note the lower case g and the insertion of the indefinite article a. They had to do this if they wanted to hold on to their belief that Jesus was not God, but was created by God. But whether or not it should be translated as the God, or a god completely misses the point. John is stressing the nature of Jesus as deity, not trying to identify Him as the Father.

Paul says it this way:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God [or “being in very nature God”], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [held onto] (Philippians 2:5-6).

All this to say, John 1:1 shows that Jesus (as the Word/Logos) existed before creation, that He was in intimate connection with the Father, and that He was deity.

The same was in the beginning with God.

John repeats the information to make sure we get the point that Jesus didn’t just come into existence when He was born to Mary. Jesus existed before any human beings existed, for He was “in the beginning with God.”

All things were made by Him.

The Greek word translated “all” is quite interesting. It means all. When John says “all things were made by Him,” that means everything. No exceptions. Everything that was created was created by the Word.

The word “made” means “brought into being.” That means it didn’t exist before, but that the Word/Logos brought it into existence.

Jesus, thousands of years before He would wear the name “Jesus,” was creating the planet He would later call home (for 33 years), creating the food He would eat, creating the mountains He would pray on, creating the human beings that would be His ancient ancestors.

And lest we miss the point that Jesus, as the Word, created everything, John says the same thing in a different way:

And without Him, no created thing was created.

The King James Version says it this way:

And without Him was not any thing made that was made.

Of all the created things, there is not one—not a single one—that was created without Jesus creating it.

This creates quite the conundrum for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for they claim Jesus was created. The only way that could be true, according to John, is if Jesus—before He existed—created Himself. Absurd.

What does this mean for us today?

John opens his gospel account with a clear declaration and defense of Jesus’ pre-existence and deity. He later quotes Jesus as saying, “Verily, verily I say to you, ‘Before Abraham was, I, I AM’” (John 8:58)[5]—Jesus Himself claiming to pre-exist Abraham, and also using the name Jehovah gave back in Exodus 3 at the burning bush: “Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me’” (Exodus 3:14).

John also shows Jesus saying, “Unless you believe that I, I AM, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).[6]

All this together means that if we want to be saved, an absolute requirement is believing in the pre-existence of Jesus and the deity of Jesus. Jesus made that a prerequisite for salvation.

——

[1] There are some theologians in the past who claimed Jesus didn’t become God’s Son until His baptism, after which God declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This is most frequently found among Unitarian groups, but it is by no means a universal belief among them.

[2] There is nothing wrong with referring to Jesus before He became Jesus as “Jesus” or “Christ,” because Paul did that very thing in Philippians 2:4-5.

[3] Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible: John (e-Sword edition), notes on John 1:1.

[4] If you want to learn more about how the Greek language works, check out The Original Essentials of New Testament Greek by Ray Summers (coming soon from Cobb Publishing).

[5] The Greek here is ego eimi. Literally, it is I (ego) I AM (eimi).

[6] Most translations say, “unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.” But there is no word in the Greek of this verse for “he.” Jesus literally says, “Unless you believe that I (ego), I AM (eimi), you shall die in your sins.”

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