By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Dean of the Center for Christian Calling, University of Mobile
IN THE BEGINNING
Near the end of John’s gospel account, the evangelist explains his intended outcome: “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
This statement is essential for understanding the purpose for the account.
John intentionally utilizes Genesis 1:1 as the foundation to assert the agency of the Word in creation. What better way to establish Jesus is the eternal Son of God than to quote the opening Greek words of the Pentateuch, “en arche”? The evangelist points to creation to introduce the preincarnate Word, “Logos.”
Was the Word (1–5)
Jesus was the Logos introduced in John 1:1 (see 1:17). He was present in the beginning. He was present with God. He was present as God. He was the Agent of creation, and no created thing was created apart from Him. He is the Author of life in the world and the Architect of light.
The evangelist’s choice of motifs encapsulates how he presents Jesus, the Logos, Light and Life. John offers themes which will echo throughout the gospel account. The “I am” revelations, for example, echo these themes of light and life: I am “the Bread of Life” (6:35), “the Light of the World” (8:12), “the Resurrection and the Life” (11:35), “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (14:6).
Made Known (6–8)
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” As a college student, I heard a chapel speaker quip that Christians from different denominations interpret this verse differently: John Huss, John Wycliffe, John Knox, John Wesley, John Calvin or John Bunyan.
Any good Bible expositor, however, will tell you the evangelist was writing about John the Baptist.
John, the prophetic forerunner of Jesus, was asked whether he was the Anointed One, but he testified that One greater than himself was coming (Luke 3:15–17).
Unlike Luke’s account which includes dialogue between the prophet and enquirers, John simply states the baptizer was not the Light who gives life, but he came to bear witness to the Light.
In the Flesh (9–14)
The Creator entered creation, and His creatures did not recognize Him.
The Covenant Maker who revealed grace and truth since His revelation to Moses (Ex. 34:6–7) came to the remnant of Israel, yet most did not receive Him. Anyone who did receive Him did so because they were born of God, not by heritage or personal will. Only the ones who receive the Word by faith bear the right to be called children of God.
John emphasizes the incarnation of the Word with language reminiscent of the Torah: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt …” The CSB footnote for verse 14 indicates the literal translation for dwelt is “tabernacled.” The tabernacle served as a temporary mobile center to Israel’s camp during the wilderness wanderings and the established central location for Israel to meet with God in the promised land.
In the initial passage, the evangelist points to the Word as the central character in this narrative. Both His deity and the humanity of the Word are fundamental for John’s account.
As an apologia against Gnosticism (or Docetism) later in the passage, the evangelist underscores the incarnation — that God physically became flesh, rather than merely appearing to do so.
The Word was God. The Word became flesh. And the evangelist was eyewitness to the incarnation.