The Word Made Flesh

Towards the end of the first century, a man called John wrote an account of the deeds and words of Jesus, with the express intent of demonstrating that this Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, so that by believing we should have life in his name (John 20:31). Together with John’s letters and the Revelation (unveiling) of Jesus Christ, John’s writings span eternity; from the opening words “In the beginning…” of John 1:1 to the renewal of creation and the eternal dwelling of God with humanity for ever in Revelation 22. God, who dwelt eternally and perfectly in self-sufficient love desired to extend that love to his creation (1 John 4:16; John17:22–26). That creation rebelled, so God himself intervened to save and renew it so his eternal purpose could be fulfilled (John 3:16).

Then I [John] saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he [Jesus] who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’” (Rev 21:1–6).

John’s writings collectively and powerfully express the absolute centrality of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in all of this. The Son was with the Father in the beginning, in eternity of time past. The Son, with the Father, is the Alpha and Omega (“A to Z”) the beginning and the end; the origin, entirety and consummation of everything. “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Rev 1:8). As the Revelation gloriously concludes, we find that the One seated on the throne, who is both Christ and God, the Lord Almighty, proclaims, “Behold, I am making all things new,” followed by, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev 21:5–6). Even more explicitly, it is the One who can announce, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done,” who states unequivocally, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” (Rev 22:12–13).

Another way in which John makes this eternal connection is through his characteristic designation of Jesus Christ as the Word made flesh. In the beginning (Gen 1:1) God spoke creation into existence. By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made (Psa 33:4; 148:5). The Hebrew for “word” is dabar and is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to God’s communications. By his dabar, God spoke to Abraham, to Moses and to Israel, and instructed them in the words by which they were to live (Deut 8:1–6). The word of the Lord came also to the judges, to Samuel and David and the prophets, with messages of rebuke, consolation and promise. Again and again came the refrain, “the word of the Lord came to…” and “Hear the word of the Lord!” becoming more and more a word of burden and of judgement as Israel refused to heed their Creator, until finally God decreed a famine of hearing his word (Amos 8:11). For about 400 years no prophet arose to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord!” until the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness (Luke 3:1). His message? To prepare the way of the Lord, YHWH, in his ultimate visitation to Israel (Luke 3:1-5; Isa 40:3–5). Isaiah’s proclamation that the glory of the Lord was to be revealed was about to be fulfilled (John 12:40–41; Isa 6). John the evangelist opens his gospel with the connection of the Word of God to eternity past;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5).

The connection with creation is evident; from the choice of “in the beginning,” to explicitly stating that “all things were made through him” and references to light and to life. John wrote in Greek, and Jewish readers, steeped in the Septuagint, would recognise logos as the appropriate translation of dabar. Heraclitus in the 5th century BC expounded the concept of the Logos as the unifying, rational principle that held the world together. The Stoics from 300 BC onwards regarded the Logos likewise as the unifying principle of the universe and the source of all things, as well as the natural law by which people should live. Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jew writing around the time of Christ, attempted to synthesise Platonist philosophy and an allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament and considered the Logos to be the instrument by which the world was created, and a bridge between the transcendent God and the created world of matter. The semantic range of logos therefore encompasses the expressive communication of the mind, an oral utterance or declaration (it is related to the verb lego, I say); reason, account or reckoning. But we do not have to look to Greek philosophy to derive the meaning of logos in John, it has clear roots in the LXX as the spoken word of God in his creative acts and dealings with creation and would be identifiable to Greek readers in that connection as well.

This Logos was “in the beginning,” both “with God” and remarkably “was God.” All things were made through the Logos, and to drive home the point, “without him was not anything made that was made.” This also equates the Logos with God the Creator. God alone is Creator; there cannot be another individual creator beside him (Deut 4:39; Isa 40:25, 28; 45:5–7, 18). The term in John 1:1 for “with God” is pros ton Theon. Pros is a preposition which may mean “to,” “toward” or “with,” the latter when its object is a person, expressing an intimate relationship. Pros is used this way in Mark 6:3 (“his sisters here with us”) 2 Cor 5:8 (“at home with the Lord”) Phlm 1:13 (“wish to hold him fast here with me”) and 1 John 1:2 (“eternal life which was with the Father”).

Furthermore, John bluntly states, “the word was God.” Some interpretive contortions, notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ tailor-made New World Translation, have attempted to downplay this to “the word was a god.” This is problematic on a number of levels. Firstly, it makes a second god alongside or with the Creator God. This will not do. This is not what John is saying; John here and elsewhere is proclaiming the Logos (as also the Son) both equal with and yet distinctive from God the Father, without compromising the unity of the Godhead. To argue that some form of lesser “deity” could be the creator of all things is an oxymoron, for a created being cannot be the creator of all things, without whom nothing was made that was made, and such a created being could never be worshiped (Rom 1:25; Rev 19:10), which the Son most definitely was, is, and will be.

The JWs’ spurious argument is based on a misunderstanding of Greek grammar. In the Greek, Theos (God) hen (he was) ho logos (the word) “God” has no article (the) which normally attends Theos. So, the argument runs, the word was “god” not “the God.” But word and God here both take the nominative case. “The word” is the subject of the sentence and the “God” is the complement or predicative nominative, the thing/person that the word is. In English, subject and predicate are distinguished by word order, but not so in Greek; word order only provides emphasis. In this construction,  the compliment or predicate, God, necessarily drops the article. This can be seen in 1 John 4:8, ho Theos agape estin, “the God love is,” or “God is love, where the compliment, love, is typically placed before the verb and loses its usual “the.” But in 1:1 John has brought the compliment, God, to the beginning of the sentence, emphasising, “GOD is what the Word was.” To further clarify Who this Word is, or rather, to explain unequivocally Who Jesus Christ is, John continues.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”’ And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:14–18).

Here we learn that the eternal Word, the Creator who was intimately with God in the beginning and was God, became flesh (became incarnate, to use the Latin expression) and dwelt among us, as witness by John the Baptist.  The evangelist proceeds to equate Jesus Christ with the incarnate Word by name, presenting him as the source of grace and testifying that we have seen his glory. This short passage is rich with significant connections to the Old Testament descriptors of God; the God of grace, which grace is his glory (Ex 23:18–22; 34:6–8; Isa 6:3–7; John 12:41). This glory had not been seen in all its fullness under the old covenant; even Moses could not look directly upon it. But when “the only God, who is at the Father’s side,” became flesh, he has made the God of glory known (John 14:7–10; 17:22–26; 2 Cor 4:4–6; Titus 2:11–14).

This intimacy of being at the Father’s side, literally, in the Father’s bosom, recalls the intimacy of being “with God” in verse 1. “The only Son of the Father” is not, as the older translations have it, the only “begotten” son, but the monogenes, the unique son, or “one and only.” This expression is also used of Isaac, not because he was literally Abraham’s only son, but because he was the beloved son of the promise, the unique son (Heb 11:17). John refers again to the incarnation (in-fleshing) of the Word in his first letter.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1–2).

The Word of life was with the Father, was from the beginning has now been made manifest (cf. 1 Tim 3:16) and has been seen and touched by witnesses. This testimony of John equates well with that of the letter to the Hebrews, the first chapter of which  reads almost like a commentary on John’s Prologue.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’ … When he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’ …of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom…’ ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end” (Heb 1:1–12).

The Word was with God, the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, he created all things and has now been manifest in the flesh and we have seen his glory. So John brings the Apocalypse, or unveiling, of Jesus Christ to a climax with a further acknowledgement of these great truths. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, “and the name by which he is called is the Word of God,” (Rev 19:13). The dwelling place of God at last is with men and Jesus makes all things new (Rev 21:3–5). He shares the throne of God, in his Father’s bosom with him again through eternity, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end.

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7 thoughts on “The Word Made Flesh

  1. This is just awful and redolent with evangelical dishonesty. To quote the Oxford berk as if his tired tenured trite is of weight is at least comedic. Jesus forgave sins? No he had authority to forgive sins. John’s revelation concerns a restored earth, please! If you intend to escape the Christadelphian inanities at least abandon their last times paradigm. John vision has sin continuing outside of the city thus to extend his vision to anything more than the new covenant being confirmed by Christ’s return in AD70, is to stretch its point to far.
    Yes, certainly the reading of John 1:1-5 forced a development of doctrine concerning the status of Jesus but attempts to twist scripture to support the Chalcedon formula are simply dishonest, or worse ignorant.
    ‘God was in the beginning but the beginning we have been told was the power of the logos. For the Lord of the universe being the necessary ground of all being, was alone, inasmuch as no creature was yet in existence… and by his simple will the logos springs forth, and the logos not springing forth in vain becomes the first begotten work of the Father. Him (the logos) we know to be the beginning of the world. (Ch. 5 Tatian’s address to the Greeks)
    Should I now insist the Arian’s were right or rather say that until the canon was collected all God’s servants were speculating but just like Islam has deified Mohammad, so Christians have deified Christ with more reason but not truth. There is one God the Father, this excludes all sophistry. Peace.

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    1. Thank you for your comments, Phillip. Just to clarify; I am not wedded to the Christadelphian last times paradigm, in fact I think it’s incorrect in a number of aspects. But apart from that I shall let our respective arguments stand on their merits. Blessings, Ruth

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