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 http://www.bsw.org/filologia-neotestamentaria/vol-21-2008/a-grammatical-analysis-of-john-1-1/525/
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 http://biblehub.com/commentaries/alford/john/1.htm
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:
"ARXH, HS, ARXOMAI: a point in time at the beginning of a duration--'beginning, to begin.' ARXH: EN ARXHi HN hO LOGOS '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" (Louw-Nida 67.65).