Saturday, April 09, 2016

John 1:1ff (A Work in Progress)

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1)

So many writers have commented on the Johannine Prologue that it seems like there's nothing new to say about it. I'll mainly be exploring syntax, grammar, and reviewing what others have written about this famed part of the Fourth Gospel. I will also be progressively working on this document and adding to this entry periodically.

The first part of the verse Ἐν ἀρχῇ (the Greek preposition + the dative form) is usually understood to be definite ("in the beginning") and scholars argue that the words allude to Genesis 1:1. One of the most recent articles on the subject is by Jan Van der Watt and Chrys Caragounis. See

These authors focus on why one could possibly claim that the anarthrous phrase Ἐν ἀρχῇ is definite rather than indefinite. Why not "in a beginning"?

In order to answer this question, Van der Watt and Caragounis first review what other scholars have written concerning the rationale for treating the anarthous construction in John 1:1a as definite. They quote Greek grammars and scholarly writings that give various reasons for deciding that the verse should be understood as "in the beginning." Some argue that the construction contains a monadic noun, whereas others argue that the phrase is anarthrous because of the preposition which it contains. However, after reviewing even more explanations, both authors of the journal article find their predecessors' reasons for choosing "the beginning" to be somewhat wanting. See Van der Watt and Caragounis, pages 95-97.

Caragounis and Van der Watt think "in a beginning" is nonsense. Furthermore, they argue that Ἐν ἀρχῇ can mean the same thing with or without the article, and they contend that Demotic Neohellenic allows for the construction to be definite (99-100).

Andreas Kostenberger considers intertexual factors when explaining 1:1a. He believes that John is repeating Genesis 1:1--a text that seems to speak of the absolute beginning. He reasons that the Fourth Gospel's opening words forge "a canonical link between the first words of the OT Scriptures and the present Gospel" (John, page 25). He cites four Johannine scholars, besides himself, who all favor viewing "beginning" at 1:1a as a time before the divine creation of heaven and earth (Ibid.). Possibly, John might also have meant by using Ἐν ἀρχῇ, "at the root of the universe," another meaning suggested by Morris. See Kostenberger, ibid.

Henry Alford takes this perspective on 1:1a: "ἐν ἀρχῇ = πρὸ τοῦ τὸν κόσμον εἶναι, ch. 17:5. The expression is indefinite, and must be interpreted relatively to the matter spoken of. Thus in Acts 11:15, it is ‘the beginning of the Gospel:’ and by the same principle of interpretation, here it is the beginning of all things, on account of the πάντα διʼ αὐτ. ἐγ. ver. 3." See

While E. Haenchen links the ἀρχῇ of John 1:1, 2 with Gen. 1:1 (LXX) like G.R.Beasley-Murray does, it seems that one must analyze both the context of the passage under consideration and the semantic domain of ἀρχή, before one firmly decides that ἀρχῇ in Gen. 1:1 is the same as ἀρχῇ in John 1:1, 2.

The verb ἦν (imperfect active indicative 3rd person singular) appears three times in 1:1, but each occurrence signifies something different:

"Was [ἦν]: this verb is used three times with different meanings in this verse: existence, relationship, and predication" (Ftn. NABRE John 1:1).

So John apparently meant that the Word (ὁ λόγος) existed "in the beginning" (Ἐν ἀρχῇ) although this part of the verse raises numerous questions.

Some years ago, a person with whom I was conversing tried to argue that ἀρχῇ in John 1:1a is timeless and dimensionless because the word is anarthrous there. But what grammatical evidence do we have that ἀρχῇ, when employed anarthrously within a context like this one, has a special or unique lexical import? I don't know how you feel about the issue of Johannine authorship, but I personally believe that the apostle John wrote both the Gospels and the three Epistles. If this is so, the opening verses of the first Epistle shed illumination on the Prologue of Jn 1.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1).

Ὃ ἦν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς, ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν, περὶ τοῦ Λόγου τῆς ζωῆς (1 John 1:1).

Please notice that ἀρχῆς in the first Epistle is also anarthrous. Yet there is no indication that the writer is employing ἀρχῆς in a timeless--from a human viewpoint--sense. He goes to great lengths to locate the ἀρχῆς within history (within time). "From the beginning," the disciples "heard" "saw" "looked upon" and "handled" τοῦ Λόγου τῆς ζωῆς. There is no indication of a dimensionless ἀρχή in the Johannine Epistle. This seems significant in view of the fact that ἀρχή here [Jn 1:1a] is also anarthrous. Of course, my argument relies heavily on a literary nexus between the Johannine Gospel and Epistles, but even if different writers composed these Scriptural works, 1 John 1:1 still serves as an example of an anarthrous ἀρχή that is manifestly historical.

The same could also be said for John 1:1:

Louw-Nida says that ἀρχή (the lexical form) may denote "a point of time at the beginning of a duration." This reference work also says the following: "ἀρχή:Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος 'in the beginning was the Word' or 'before the world was created, the Word (already) existed' or 'at a time in the past when there was nothing . . . ' Jn 1:1" (67.65).


Duncan said...

A large helping of methods of eisegesis.

Duncan said...

Out of 400,000 examples it only takes one or two to change the overall perception of how a term can be used, for a verse that so many hinge so much I think that this investigation should not be cut short. In this era of IT. would it be too difficult? Isn't this what undergraduates are for?

Edgar Foster said...

Some institutions are more amenable to research than others. I want to add more to this project, but it just seems that so many have written about Jn 1:1ff that it doesn't need to be thoroughly explored by me.

One person has worked up a prodigious study on the topic matter, but I'm not sure that he's ready to make his results public yet, so I'm not going to provide his name and work here. But you have people who are producing almost 900 pages on John 1:1 alone. I can't top that, and I'm not an NT exegete anyway.

Duncan said...

Sorry, I was not suggesting that you should organise this. I was referring to what seems to be a blasé approach in the above study.

As for 900 pages on a single verse this would indicate to me that someone does not want the wood to be seen for the trees. If someone was to analyse 400,000 sentences as I mentioned above only the ones of note need referencing.

I have just had training for auditing iso9001:2015 qms. If the structure of production and design of this type of system was app!ied to studies it would cut out the majority of dead wood.

In any case IMHO this blinkered approach to analysis of John 1:1 is a distraction from the real issues. What the word actually is and whether the beginning is one and the same or one of equivalent significance. There are beginnings , fulcrum's and parallels. At the moment I think the key lies with Matthew 19:28.

Edgar Foster said...

The study I mentioned was written for a specific purpose, namely, to accumulate research and commentary done on John 1:1. The work also serves an apologetic purpose.

To me, Gen 1:1 seems like a good match for the beginning of John 1:1. It's not only the word that points to this conclusion, however, but I believe the context of John 1:1 supports the idea as well. Origen's Comemntary on John also gives us an ancient example of how early church writers in the East read the Johannine Prologue. He has an intelligent analysis of John's opening lines.

I'm not sure how Mt 19:28 helps with John 1:1, but I'll hear you out. I really don't want to get delayed on a single aspect of the verse. The part concerning "beginning" and what it possibly means is just a leading the way to further discussion of the passage.

Edgar Foster said...

In the last post, my opening words refer to the 900+ page study on John 1:1.

Duncan said...

John was not written in a vacume away from the recognised sayings of Jesus.

παλιγγενεσία is my specific focus.

John prologue including John the Baptist in the position that it does. Prior to the logos putting on flesh.

How Jesus is called rabbi After his baptism.

There is one final point I am not clear on yet. Is Jesus called lord by his disciples chronogically prior to the accounts of feeding multitudes?

Duncan said...

In the beginning was the Word. John 1:1 It is not only the Greeks who consider the word beginning to have many meanings. Let any one collect the Scripture passages in which the word occurs, and with a view to an accurate interpretation of it note what it stands for in each passage, and he will find that the word has many meanings in sacred discourse also.

If Origen was in a direct line of johanine tradition why would any kind of interpretation of the beginning be requited. He is doing exactly the same as modern scholarship removed from the source tradition. So whether the gap is 100 or 2000 years it seems just as wide.

Duncan said...

Also taking into account Origen's background and method.

Duncan said...

That He was first [in place and station] in regard to me - is an alternative translation of John 1:15.

Context again is king & "before" is not always temporal.

Edgar Foster said...

A few thoughts:

It's highly doubtful that the events outlined in John 1:6-8 happened before the Logos took on flesh. Why should we think that this unit is to be read chronologically such that we assume John the Baptist temporally preceded Christ in this account? John did not start witnessing in the Messiah's behalf prior to Christ becoming flesh: the Lord was in Mary's womb when John leaped in the womb of Elizabeth. So while John's ministry is discussed before the Apostle writes that the Logos became flesh, those words should likely not be read in chronological order.

As for Origen, I don't believe he was in the direct line of Johannine tradition, but whether he was or not, I wonder why an interpretation of "in the beginning" would not be required since the expression is possibly ambiguous and open to different understandings. Origen was known for the allegorical method that he used with a hint of Platonism. His interpretive excursions are sometimes wild, but he's amazingly sober-minded in parts of the Commentary on John. We need careful analyses of words, textual units and contexts, and the Alexandrian sometimes provided these things. Philo used the allegorical method too.

Edgar Foster said...

John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” (John 1:15-NET)

Part of the Greek: Ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν.

πρῶτός seems to be used temporally in this verse.

Meyer's NT Commentary:

ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμ. ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν] “He who cometh after me is come before me;”—in how far is stated in the clause ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν, which assigns the reason. The meaning of the sentence and the point of the expression depend upon this,—namely, that Christ in His human manifestation appeared after John, but yet, as the pre-mundane Logos, preceded him, because He existed before John.

Duncan said...

If the prologue is styled after Genesis then why would we not think it chronological?

Genesis 1:3 - 1 john 1:5 - John 1:5 - after baptism - John 8:12 - John 3:19-21 - John 9:2 "rabbi" - John 9:5 - John 12:35,36 (compare Deuteronomy 11:22,
Jeremiah 6:16) - John 14:24. Sons of light = sons of Christ or sons of the word-father?

Also you are referencing different terms - logos & Christ.

If Luke 1:44 is to be used in such a way then how do you explain 1:43? were they not relatives so how would a visit be exceptional. For Elizabeth to call him lord would be logical since she would know the lineage.

Why should Origens introduction to "in the beginning" be anything other than normative?

For John 1:15 compare Matthew 3:11.

As I said, "before" / "mightier" does not have to be temporal & commentaries without linguistic proofs are just that, commentaries.

Duncan said...

Also applicable to John 1:27.

John 1:30 ABP

Joh 1:30 This is concerning of whom I said, After me comes a man, who [before me was], for [foremost over me he was].

Does this not define terms?

Is this the correct entry? I am having difficulty searching the database.

Duncan said...

Origen 1:36-

"The mouth of the Son of God is a sharp sword, for (Hebrews 4:12) The word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart."

The way Origen interprets and applies the logos but how would those steeped in the Tanakh interpret? Compare Isa 1:20 LXX, Isa 49:2 LXX also compare Rev 2:16, Rev 19:15.

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, I want to clarify a few things in this reply.

1) It is not certain that Genesis 1 is strictly chronological, but even if it is, that's no guaranteee that John 1:1-18 completely parallels the Genesis account. Historically, we know that John's ministry did not begin prior to Jesus' birth. They were only 6 months apart. So 1:6-8 cannot be a temporal continuation of 1:1-5.

2) I use Logos and Christ interchangeably, like many students of John do, because the preexistent Christ is identified as the Logos enfleshed in John's Gospel and his 1st Epistle.

3) I'm not sure what you're asking concerning Luke 1:43-44. Are you suggesting that Mary was not carrying Jesus when she visited Elizabeth? The point I was making is that Jesus Christ (the Logos who was with God in the beginning before he emptied himself), qua human, was already born and physically mature when John's ministry commenced.

4) Why should we treat Origen's explanation of John 1:1ff as normative? I don't take that approach with any of the early church fathers. He was certainly not the only ancient exegete to interpret part or the entire work of John, although he's certainly one of the earliest. I only referenced Origen because does incredible exegesis (sometimes) for his epoch. But I never meant to imply that we should treat his exegesis of John as a normative guide.

5) When did I state that "before" (John 1:15) must be understood temporally? I quoted the commentary to again show possibilities of understanding, not to dictate how "before" must be understood. In fact, there are three possibilities:

a) "before" is temporal
b) it denotes preeminence
c) it denotes temporal priority and priority of status

Howver, I favor temporal priority and merely quoted the commentary to show that others have arrived at that conclusion. But I did not limit the possibilities of the word.

John 1:30 (NASB): "This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'

NET reads similarly. If prior existence is not being referenced in 1:30, then why does the writer use ἦν?

ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν

Edgar Foster said...

It defines terms, but you have to choose from the side or maybe enter the word in Greek at the top of the page. But the entry that you liked was not for protos, but anwthen.

Origen's understanding of the Logos is now outdated, for the most part. While there's a possible connection with the Son of God and the language of Heb 4:12, his explanation might not represent the original authorial intent for that verse.

Edgar Foster said...

This link may possibly be helpful for determining when Jesus was first addressed as Kurios:

Edgar Foster said...

From Vincent's Word Studies (Heb 4:12 commentary):

The word of God (ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ)

That which God speaks through any medium. The primary reference is to God's declarations concerning his rest. The fathers explained it of the personal Word as in the Fourth Gospel. But in the Epistle there is no approach to any definite use of λόγος with reference to Christ, not even in the description of his relation to God in Hebrews 1:1-14, where, if anywhere, it might have been expected. In Hebrews 6:5 and Hebrews 11:3 we find ῥῆμα. Everywhere in the Epistle Christ appears as the Son, not as the Word. In this passage, the following predicates, ἐνεργὴς, τομώτερος, κριτικὸς, would hardly be applied to the Logos, and in Hebrews 4:14 he is styled Jesus the Son of God.

Duncan said...

Lets just focus on the genesis account for a moment as there are too many threads here (of my own making). Genesis is chronological in blocks (born out by scientific evidences). Genesis 1:1 is the prologue overview of what is to come next (we already know there is significant debate as to "the beginning" or "a beginning" here but for our purposes this is not important just as it is not important in John 1:1 since the definite article is not available and if it is implied does not have to mean a temporal beginning but can mean a point of emphasis or focus).

John 6:60 - this difficult logos being spoken from the father - John 12:49,50.

So when did Jesus begin to speak the logos? when did the logos become flesh? where is the functional beginning.

John 8:37 - my logos has no place in you.

John 8:38 - clearly not literal.

John 8:43 - διατι την λαλιαν την εμην ου γινωσκετε οτι ου δυνασθε ακουειν τον λογον τον εμον - again the logos being spoken.

Joh 8:47 ο ων εκ του θεου τα ρηματα του θεου ακουει...

Joh 17:5,6 clearly not the literal "world" - Jesus sends his disciples "into the world"

John 1:32 ... εξ ουρανου και εμεινεν επ αυτον.

the word became flesh.

Duncan said...

The commentary on Hebrews 4:12 uses "the personal Word" but in the johannine we have John 1:34, 1 John 4:15. Where is the evidence that these terms mean the same thing. In the same way as we have king and priest which could be said of the person but they are certainly not the same function.

Joh 17:18 καθως εμε απεστειλας εις τον κοσμον καγω απεστειλα αυτους εις τον κοσμον

John 17:22-24 compare Luke 24:26.

So where is the evidence of the need to interpret "coming into the word" "before the world" or any of these terms as temporal - Ephesians 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 1:9-10.

John 12:6.

John 17:5

και νυν δοξασον με συ πατερ παρα σεαυτω τη δοξη η ειχον προ του τον κοσμον ειναι παρα σοι

"and now glorify me Father alongside you to the glory which I had before the world to be alongside you."

compare 17:24, Matthew 25:34 and Ephesians 1:4 (ειναι).

Duncan said...

Thanks for the link, I will look at it as time permits.

Just done a quick survey of Luke & it does appear that the first time a disciple calls him lord is Luk 5:8 after the miracle of the fish.

Mark 2:26-28 Lord of the Sabbath seems to associate with the supply of food.

Mark 7:28 again likened to the supply of crumbs.


Edgar Foster said...

I'll try to provide a longer response by this weekend, at the latest, but meeting days like today are hectic.

When Vincent speaks of the "personal Word," he's explaining how the ancient church fathers (generally speaking) understood Heb 4:12. That is not his view. I quoted Vincent's work to show how much things have changed since Origen. He does not suggest (as I read Vincent) that Word and Son mean the same thing, even if they're sometimes used of the same person.

My statement about "before" strictly applied to John 1:15 initially and then to 1:30. But I also stated that "before" does not have to be understood in a strictly temporal sense (i.e., Jesus existed before John in time). Scholars think "before" could refer to temporal priority, positional eminence or to superior power (or to all three ideas simultaneously). It's hard to be dogmatic in this case.

"Coming into the world" and "before the world" are not the same. The first expression implies (not requires) temporality, whereas the second could have taken place outside of time. By "temporal" earlier, I was talking about temporal precedence/priority.

But in Eph 1:4, what is the frame of reference that's prior to the "foundation of the world"? That seems to be a time either before or shortly after the world's creation.

You also have to think about how einai is functioning in John 17:5 and Ephesians 1:4. Why do the writers use it?

Some theologians and physicists usually say that the world began "with" time rather than "in" time. See Prov. 8:23. However, the answer to that question doesn't have a direct bearing on my understanding of John 1:15, 30.

For the record, I affirm the heavenly preexistence of the Logos/Christ. (2 Cor. 8:9)

Duncan said...

John 11:27 is interesting "coming into the world" not "has come into the world".

Edgar Foster said...


you wrote:

"John 6:60 - this difficult logos being spoken from the father - John 12:49,50.

So when did Jesus begin to speak the logos? when did the logos become flesh? where is the functional beginning."

We need to distinguish between the Logos as spoken by God or humans, the inward Logos which is cognized, and the preexistent Logos that comes to be personified in Jesus Christ. The Decalogue, for example, is called the Ten Words and sometimes Logos denotes not only one signifier, but an entire string of them. My point is that we have to let context inform us what the word "beginning" means and context needs to determine what "Logos" means. It's clear that John does not monosemically use the word "beginning" in his Gospel. See John 6:64; 8:44.

"John 8:37 - my logos has no place in you."

I don't believe Christ is talking about himself in this passage, but rather, his magisterial utterance.

"John 8:38 - clearly not literal."

That depends on what you mean by "literal," and how you're understanding his reference. The bottom line is that his interlocutors were not accepting his utterances. The saying might be compared to the utterance, "truth is not in him." Is that a literal or a figurative expression?

"John 8:43 - διατι την λαλιαν την εμην ου γινωσκετε οτι ου δυνασθε ακουειν τον λογον τον εμον - again the logos being spoken.

Joh 8:47 ο ων εκ του θεου τα ρηματα του θεου ακουει..."

I don't see how either Johannine text helps to establish a starting point for Jesus' uttering the Logos, but we need to distinguish the variant senses for the word or else it leads to unnecessary confusion

"Joh 17:5,6 clearly not the literal "world" - Jesus sends his disciples "into the world"

John 1:32 ... εξ ουρανου και εμεινεν επ αυτον.

the word became flesh."

I don't totally follow the line of thought here, but when you say that 17:5-6 is not referring to the literal "world," I must emphasize that kosmos has numerous senses, and John does not use the term monosemically (i.e., univocally).

The world (the universe) came into existence through the Logos (ta panta). That hypostatized Word existed alongside the Father before angels and the material universe were brought into being. But "world" in 17:5-6 culd refer to humankind or the human sphere (John 1:9-10). Then it would make sense to write that Jesus' disciples were sent into the world of humankind. Compare John 3:16.

The NIV Study Bible states: "world. For John, it is usually not the universe in general but the created order, especially humans, in rebellion against its Creator"

Zondervan (2015-08-25). NIV, Zondervan Study Bible, eBook: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Kindle Locations 245179-245180). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Duncan said...

"his magisterial utterance" - 2 Peter 1:17.

John 8:38 - και υμείς ούν ο εωράκατε παρά τω πατρί υμών ποιείτε

The world (the universe) came into existence through the Logos (ta panta).

Ta panta demonstrated as past, present and future.

Duncan said...

Rev 5:6 αρνίον εστηκός ως εσφαγμένον

Hebrews 4:3, Isaiah 55:11, Acts 1:7.