THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
CHAPTER 1:1-18: THE PROLOGUE

"In the beginning God created heaven and earth.  Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters.  God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.  God saw that light was good and God divided light from darkness.  God called the light 'day', and darkness he called 'night'.  Evening came and morning came: the first day."
-Genesis 1:1-5

"We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word who made it in the beginning.  There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it at first."
–St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [1], 4th century

"When [John] says 'What was from the beginning', he touches upon the generation without beginning of the Son, who is coeval with the Father. 'Was,' therefore, is indicative on an eternity without a beginning, just as the Word Himself, that is, the Son, being one with the Father in regard to equality of substance, is eternal and uncreated.  That the Word always existed is signified by the saying: 'In the beginning was the Word.'"
-Clement of Alexandria, Commentary on the First Epistle of John (History of the Church, Eusebius, Book VI, chapter 14

+ + +

The Gospel according to St. John can be divided into 5 books:

BOOK 1 – THE PROLOGUE 1:1-1:18

C

I.   THE DIETY OF CHRIST

1:1, 2
R

II.  THE PREINCARNATION OF CHRIST

1:3-5
E

          A. He is the foundation of all life (vs. 3)

 
A

          B. He is the light (vs. 4)

 
T

          C. The darkness cannot overcome Him (vs. 5)

1:5

I

III. THE FORERUNNER OF CHRIST

1:6-8
O

IV. THE COMING AND REJECTION OF CHRIST

1:9-11
N

V.  THE ACCEPTANCE OF CHRIST

1:12-13

VI. THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST

1:14-18

          A.  The Word becomes flesh (vs. 14)

          B.  John prophesizes Christ (vs. 15)

The beautiful hymn that comprises the opening 18 verses of this Gospel introduces the main themes of the 4th Gospel much like a symphony overture sets the musical theme for a symphony.  Verses 1-18 reveal seven themes that will be developed as the Gospel message unfolds in subsequent chapters:

  1. life (1:4)
  2. light (1:4)
  3. darkness (1:5)
  4. witness /testimony (1:7)
  5. faith (1:12)
  6. glory (1:14)
  7. truth (1:17)

This is the first of a series of sevens in the fourth Gospel. Other sevens will include 7 days, 7 statements of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, 7 "signs", etc.  According to Hebrew sacred Oral Tradition the number 7 carries the value of fullness, completeness or spiritual perfection [please reference the article "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture" in the Documents section].

The sum of these seven themes is expressed in Jesus "the Word", logos in Greek (John 1:1, 9, & 14).  Writing in the Greek language, the international language of his age, the inspired writer of this Gospel expresses Jesus as the divine Logos.  This significant word, is used 330 times in the New Testament but it is used specifically to express the Second Person of the Divine Trinity only 7 times in the New Testament:

Four times in John's Gospel

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.

John 1:14

The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory....

Once in 2nd Timothy

2Timothy 4:2

I charge you, in the name of his appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the Word and, welcome or unwelcome insist on it.

Once in the First Epistle of St. John

1 John 1:1

Something which has existed since the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have watched and touched with our own hands, the Word of life, his is our theme.

And once in The Revelation of Jesus Christ to His servant John

Rev. 19:13

He is known by the name, The Word of God.

In the Greek language of the 1st century when this Gospel was written, the word logos/ word was associated with the order and the design of the universe and with the intelligible expression of the Greek gods as they interacted with and governed man and creation.  But, as so often happens in the New Testament, the inspired New Testament writers who came from the cultural, ritual, and spiritual traditions of the Old Covenant people of God, used Old Covenant concepts and traditions to transform Greek words beyond their commonly understood Greek value.  For example, there was no Greek word to adequately express the Hebrew concept of the Messiah, the "Anointed One" of God.  Christians adopted the Greek word for "one who is smeared", christos, and transformed it to mean the promised "Messiah" who is the Anointed One of God, God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Christos [Christ].

In the Old Covenant tradition of the Children of Israel, the divine Logos was:

  1. The creative divine will and power of the one true God "By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth their array." Psalms 33:6
  2. The expression of the wisdom of God "Every word of God is unalloyed, a shield to  those who take refuge in him."  Proverbs 30:5
  3. God the source of all life: "True to your word support me and I shall live.." Psalms 119: 116.

But John weaves together Greek and Hebrew thought to express the Logos/Word as a Divine Person.  The Word is the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, God the Son, the eternal Logos who was from the beginning eternally with the Father and who was the mediator of all creation and who has now, through His incarnation, become the mediator of eternal salvation:

Not only does the prologue identify Jesus as the "Divine Logos" but also provides the first and clearest declaration of the deity of Jesus the Messiah, Son of God.

The Prologue Part I: The Deity and Pre-Incarnation of Christ

Please read John 1:1-5

John 1:1-2  In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.

With these opening words of John's great prologue he traces the origin of "The Word" backward into eternity to where God the Son was present with God the Father before time as we know it began. It is what Jesus expressed in His High Priestly prayer in John 17:5 Now, Father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed.  In this opening verse John is teaching the Church that time, the universe and the earth, which was once created through the Word of God, will now be renewed through the same Word, the Word who has come in the flesh-Jesus the Christ:

Question:  Jesus also revealed this mystery to His servant John in the Book of Revelation.  In three passages Jesus reveals His preexistence by using what two Greek letters and what do they signify? Hint: see Revelation 1:8; 21:6; and 22:13.

Answer:  The alpha and the omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  In Revelation 19:13 Jesus is identified as the "Word of God".  He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end of creation. Revelation 11:13 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."

(Also please see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC #241 & 291). 

Question:  Look closely at the first few words of John 1:1.  Do the opening words of John's Gospel remind you of any other opening words of an Old Testament book?  Hint: see Genesis 1:1

Answer:  Both John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 begin with the same words:  "In the beginning".  (Actually, in the literal translation the definite article "the" is missing.  The Greek words that begin St. John's Gospel are literally "in beginning," en arche, while the first Hebrew words of the book of Genesis are also "in beginning," or b'reshith, in Hebrew.  The Old Testament Greek translation used at the time Jesus walked the earth also began Genesis with en arche, "in beginning."

Question: Do you think it is a coincidence that both Genesis, which records the works of Creation before the incarnation of God the Son and the prologue of St. John's Gospel begin with the same phrase?

Please read Genesis 1:1-5 and compare it with John 1:1-5

Question: Is "the beginning" in St. John's Gospel the same "beginning" that is described in Genesis?

Answer: No. Genesis begins with creation as we know it: "In the beginning God created..".  John's "beginning" is before creation as we know it.

Question: In addition to the "in beginning" wording what other key words and imagery link the Gospel of John 1:1-5 and Genesis 1:1-5?

Answer: Light and dark. 

Less obvious is the link between "God said" and "the Word" in John's Gospel. 

Question: How many times in the creation narrative of Genesis chapter 1 are the words: "God said" repeated?

Answer: Eight times in the narrative of creation in Genesis chapter 1 there is repeated, like the refrain of a hymn, the words: "And God said" in Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, & 26.

Eight is the number, according to Hebrew tradition, of regeneration, redemption, and salvation.  In the Gospel of John all those "sayings" of God are brought together in a single WORD-- He who is the basis of creation. Jesus' name in Greek, the language of the New Testament, has the value of 888'a trinity of 8. See the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture."

Question: In linking Christ, the Incarnate Word [the Word made flesh], in John 1:1-5 to Genesis 1:1-5 what theological truth is revealed?

Answer:  God the Son was present with God the Father before time and creation began.

Question:  Looking carefully at Genesis 1:1-3 do you see the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity hidden in the first 3 verses?  Hint#1: the Hebrew word ruah can mean "wind," "breath" or "spirit". Hint #2 read John 1:4 and 9.

Answer:  Hebrew words are in bold print:

God the Father

"In the beginning God [Elohim] created heaven and earth."  Genesis 1:1

God the Holy Spirit

"Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind [ruah] sweeping over the waters." Genesis 1:2  [divine ruah = God the Holy Spirit]

God the Son

"God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light."  Genesis 1:3
[Jesus is both the Word and the Light]

It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word elohim is the plural of the Hebrew word for god (el and eloha can mean god as in a pagan deity, but they are capitalized when referring to the One true God).  Only God's Covenant name, Yahweh, is used more often than the plural form "Elohim" for God the Father in the Old Testament [Elohim = circa 2,600 times; Yahweh circa 6,800 times].  For more information on the different names of God in the Bible please see The Many Names of God in the Document Section.

Question: Jewish scholars teach that the plural form is used for the One True God because He is greater than all other so-called gods, but do you see a theological truth revealed in the use of the plural form? 

Answer:  The plural form of  the Hebrew word "Elohim" in the Old Testament reveals the hidden mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, a concept not revealed to mankind until the coming of Jesus Christ.  The Israelites of the Old Covenant Church recognized God as "Father" in the sense that He is:

  1. The Creator of the world,
  2. "Father" of the Covenant to Israel His first-born son among the nations [Exodus 4:22]
  3. "Father" of the Kings of Israel
  4. "Father" of the poor and downtrodden. 

But Jesus revealed that Elohim-Yahweh is God the Father in a sense kept hidden from the Church of the Old Covenant.  Through Christ He is revealed as "eternally Father" by His relationship to His "only begotten Son".  It is because God the Father eternally "fathers" God the Son that He is God the Father. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) #240.

Even though the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity was not revealed to man until the coming of the Messiah, the truth of that revelation was hidden in Sacred Scripture before the Incarnation as the connection between Genesis 1:1-3 and John 1:1-5 reveals. The great Catholic theologian and Scripture scholar St. Augustine taught "The New [Testament] is hidden in the Old [Testament] and the Old [Testament] is fulfilled in the New [Testament]."  When we study Sacred Scripture it is important to study with this concept in mind.

Another example of the hidden promise of Christ in the Old Testament is evident in the double meaning of the opening words of both Genesis and the fourth Gospel.  In the Hebrew Bible the title of each of the books is taken from the first few words of each book.  We call the first book of the Old Testament "Genesis" from the Greek word for "origins."  But in Hebrew the title is B'reshith [b'reshyth] which can be translated "in [the] beginning" or "in [the] first".  These words in both the Hebrew [reshith] and the Greek [arche] have a double meaning.  They can mean "first" as in sequence or time and "first" as in rank or power.  The Hebrew word reshith is from the Hebrew root rosh meaning "head" or "first."  In the Hebrew/ Israelite family the son who was the "first-born" carried the title of the reshith, the "first" of the sons of the family.  This could mean "birth order" but more importantly it meant this son was the heir, the "first-born" in the sense of rank and inheritance.  In the Old Testament Book of Genesis, Esau was the "firstborn" of his father Isaac, but Jacob, the younger son, became the reshith, the heir.  Likewise Joseph the son of Jacob (Israel) was not the first born in birth order of Jacob's 12 sons but Jacob designated him the reshith, the heir with authority over his brothers.  The son who carried the title of the reshith was the son who would receive both the blessing of the father and a double portion of the birthright.  In other words, he had the spiritual as well as the material birthright.  In this sense Jesus is the "firstborn", the reshith, of God the Father.  It is also in this sense that Paul writes of Christ in Colossians 1:15-20

Please read Colossians 1:15-20 in your Bible.

The New Jerusalem translation ="He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers, all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together. And he is the Head of the Body, that is, the Church.  He is the Beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that he should be supreme in every way; because God wanted all fullness to be found in him and through him to reconcile all things to him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, by making peace through his death on the cross."

This passage from Colossians does not mean that Jesus was the first thing created, as some so-called Christian sects misinterpret this passage, but rather that Jesus Christ is the reshith, the first-born, as in the "head" of all creation.  And in the double meaning of the Hebrew word He is "first" in terms of time: He existed before Creation, and He is first in terms of rank: He is the Lord of all creation.   CCC #280 affirms this teaching:"Creation is the foundation of  'all God's saving plans,' the beginning of the history of salvation that culminates in Christ.  Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;" from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ."

Question: Re-read Colossians 1:15 and compare that verse to Genesis 1:27, the creation of man.  What is the difference between Jesus and man in relationship to God the Father?

Answer:  Genesis 1:27 states that man is created "in the image of God" but in Colossians 1:15 Christ "is the image."  Christ is begotten of God therefore He is the image of the Father but we are creatures who were created by God in His image!  We can only be transformed from creature to "sons and daughters" of God through our Baptism into the family of God when God the Holy Spirit transfuses us with the life of Christ Himself, giving us "new life" as we are re-born spiritually into God's family.  In the miraculous transformation we are no longer children in the family of Adam, but become instead adopted children in the family of God [CCC #1265].

Christ is the "firstborn" of all creation.  He is the creative force behind creation.  He is the Word spoken by God that brings creation into being.  Christ is first in time and first in power.  The whole event of creation is in Christ and through Christ and for Christ.  He is the Word spoken by the Father that is the pattern and the blueprint to conform to, that is why we need two creations.  The first, the natural creation, is the blueprint that will be fully redeemed by Christ as the "New Creation".  The first creation is necessary to bring into being the second creation.  He made the world to renew the world.  It is what the prophet Isaiah wrote about prophetically in Isaiah 65:17-18 "For look, I am going to create a new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered and will come no more to mind.  Rather be joyful, be glad for ever at what I am creating..."

Question:  Look back at the quotation of Colossians 1:15-20 in this lesson.  You will notice that I highlighted key words in the Colossians passage.  It is interesting to note that in the title of the first book of the Old Testament, B'reshith, that the Hebrew preposition "be"has multiple meanings and can mean "through", or "with", or "in", or "for."  Can you find reference to "through", "in" and "for" in the Colossians passage?  But think for a minute; where have you heard reference to Christ in the Mass with the various meanings of this Hebrew word?  Hint: think of the combination of the words "through, in, and with."

Answer:  The Per Ipsum or Final Doxology of the Mass just before Communion; the priest says as he elevates the Host: "Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit ..."

See CCC # 280*, 290, 291, 299, 668*

John 1:1-2 continued: the Word was with God  

Question:  What is the theological importance of this statement?

Answer: The theological importance of these words is that they distinguish God the Son from God the Father.  In other words, John is telling us that although the Godhead is One Holy and Eternal God, God the Word and God the Father are not the same Person even though they show the same nature in the Most Holy Trinity (John 17:25-26 Father, Upright One, the world has not known you, but I have known you, and these [the Apostles] have known that you have sent me.  I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.)

and the Word was God.  Literally in the Greek text this phrase is and God [Theos] was the Word [Logos].  John only uses the Greek word Logos for the personal Christ here and in verse 14.  If this Prologue is the opening 'overture' of St. John's Gospel symphony, then this is where the cymbals clash with a deafening sound and the audience is startled and brought to attention.  These words are the first and clearest declaration of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament. These words are the climax of the two preceding statements and they declare the unity and diversity of the Godhead.  (See John 5:18; 10:29-38; 20:28).

The key phrase in this verse, and the Word [Logos] was God [Theos], has been mistranslated by some to read "and the Word was a God." Using this mistranslation certain groups have promoted the heresy that there have been a series of gods, not acknowledging One Holy and Eternal God.  The argument used in this interpretation is that in the Greek text the word theos, [in English "God"] should be accompanied by the part of speech known as an article ["a" and "an" are indefinite articles; "the" is a definite article], and since the word God in this part of the Greek text does not have the definite article "the" , or ha in the Greek, as the word "Theos" does in most cases, it must be intended to have the indefinite article "a", indicating that "the Word" was one of many gods.

Why is this translation unacceptable?  In the literal translation, the Greek word order is reversed and reads: "and God was the Word".  It is true that the noun "God" does not have the definite article "the".  However, the word "God" is the predicate and not the subject of the proposition.  The subject must be "the Word" ["The Word was with God and the Word was God"] because John is not trying to show 'who is God' but 'who is the Word'.  The first "Theos" [God] in the sentence is the object of the preposition "with" and the second "Theos" the predicate nominative. It is without an article which could not have been omitted if John had meant to designate the Word as God because in that event Theos would have been ambiguous' suggesting "a God."  To translate this phrase the Word was a God" also ignores a basic rule of Greek grammar called "Caldwell's Rule" [named for E.C. Caldwell of the University of Chicago] which states that an anarthrous noun [a noun without an article] in the predicate nominative position does not take a definite article.  Moreover, John is not contradicting his previous statement by which he had distinguished God from the Word.  He is not using the word logos only to signify an attribute of God.  Instead, John is signifying a separate person of the Godhead who is at the same time distinct from the Father and yet so intimately related to the Father that He even shares His divine nature: the Word is one in substance [homoousios] with the Father.  In 1967 Pope Paul VI designated that year the "Year of Faith" and summed up the truth concerning the Most Holy Trinity in what is called the Creed of the People of God: "We believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.  He is the eternal Word, born of the Father before time began, and one in substance with the Father, homoousios to Patri, and through him all things were made.  He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was made man: equal therefore to the Father according to his divinity, and inferior to the Father according to his humanity and himself one, not by some impossible confusion of his natures, but by the unity of his person." [Creed of the People of God n. 11].   

Question:  Can you name three dogmas (truths) that the Catholic Church teaches about the Most Holy Trinity?

Answer:

The theology of John's statement is expressed more clearly in the Catechism # 253-255: The Dogma of the Holy Trinity.  A dogma is a truth the Church teaches which we must believe in order to be Catholic.

John 1:2: He was with God in the beginning.  The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity was not "waiting in the wings" for the right time in Salvation History to interact with man and creation.  He is co-eternal with the Father.  Not only is the Word co-eternal with the Father, but He is eternally in active communion in a personal relation to God the Father. 

St. John Chrysostom, teaches on this unique relationship between the Father and the Son and creation in his Homilies on St. John ( 2,4):   'In the beginning'; what that means is that he always was, and that he is eternal......For if he is God, as indeed he is, there is nothing prior to him; if he is creator of all things, then he is the First, if he is Lord of all, then everything comes after him, he created things and time.

The Prologue Part II: The Pre-incarnation of Christ

Please read John 1:3-5:  Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.

Question:  What two basic truths does this passage reveal about the Word?  Hint: see verse 4.

Answer: That He is "light" and He is "life".

The opening verses of the Prologue have shown us that the Word is both united with and yet distinct from the Father.  Now we address His relationship to created things. The work of creation is an activity that is common to the three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. 

Question:  What is the basic element of creation?  Is creation basically good or evil? 

Answer: The Church teaches that creation is good because the Most Holy Trinity caused creation to come into being. Each part of creation possesses its own particular goodness and perfection.  Nothing God has created is, by its nature, evil.  For each one of the works of God Genesis chapter 1 recounts that: "...and God saw that it was good." We express this belief in God as author of a "good" creation in the Apostle's Creed and in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed that we repeat at every Mass.  The Creed we recite at Mass "summarizes the gift that God gives man as the Author of all that is good; as Redeemer; and as Sanctifier..." [CCC #15].  The gift that God gives us is good. Would a Father give His children a gift that was bad? We in turn cooperate with that gift [working to harvest the wheat and the grapes to turn them into bread and wine].  We give that gift back to Him and He transforms and returns that gift of "nature" into "super-nature" in the Holy Eucharist.  Human beings fall into heresy when they worship the "gift" and not the "Giver" and when they regard the gift of creation as basically evil.   The Church therefore rejects Manichaeanism and all other forms of Gnosticism, which teach that God is opposed by another god who is evil or by some element of an evil cosmos.  The Council of Florence in the 15th century taught: the church asserts that there is no such thing as a nature of evil, because everything in nature insofar as it is of nature is good.

The Church also teaches that creation is an act of divine love.  It is good because it has been created by God and has been invested with a purpose and a meaning.

Question: Can you name two chief purposes for creation?  Hint: see Psalms 19:1, Isaiah 65:17; Ephesians 1:10; 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1.

Answer:

  1. One purpose is to manifest the perfection, glory, and holiness of God (Psalms 19:1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork). 
  2. The second purpose in God's plan for the universe is that it share in His life, goodness, and limitless love. 

God's plan from before creation is to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:10).  Creation, in the final analysis, is good because it is centered on Jesus Christ, the Word, who came in the flesh to unite all of creation to Himself.

Question:  Returning to John 1:5: What is the contrast that is being symbolized between the light and the darkness imagery?

Answer:  Good [the Light/Christ the Word] and evil [darkness].

St. John will explain further about the "light" and the "darkness" (verses 9-11) and the struggle between them.  Later in John 12:15-46 Jesus will describe evil and the powers of Satan, the fallen angel, as a darkness enveloping man's mind and preventing man from knowing God (see John 12:15-46 and 1 John 5:6).

Question: There is a promised victory at the end of John 1:5. What is it?

Answer: The promise that evil cannot overcome good. It is a promise we need to remember when the world seems full of evil and many innocent people are suffering.  We can take courage by remembering this verse and others like it including Jesus' promise to the suffering church at Philadelphia in Asia Minor in Revelation 3:10-12 I will keep you safe in the time of trial which is coming for the whole world, to put the people of the world to the test.  I am coming soon: hold firmly to what you already have, and let no one take your victor's crown sway from you.  Anyone who proves victorious I will make into a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and it will stay there for ever.....

 

The Prologue Part III: The Forerunner of Christ

Please read John 1:6-8A man came, sent by God.  His name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him.  He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light."

Notice the choice of words: "sent by God."  It is exactly the same in the Greek.  The verb "sent" in Greek is apostello.  The verb carries the sense of sending an envoy with a special commission.  It is the verb form of the noun that Jesus will use to signify the 12 men who will be the spiritual fathers of the New Israel.

Question: Who are these men?

Answer: The Apostles [Apostolos in Greek].

All of God's holy prophets who were sent as God's messengers before the coming of the Word were not the true Light, but instead they were His reflection.  They prepared the world by proclaiming [witnessing to] the coming of the true Light, the Messiah.  The more literal translation is: "he came for witness [martyria] to bear witness [martyreo]..."

Martyria [also spelled marturia] is a noun and means "witness bearer" while martyreo [also spelled martureo] is a verb denoting "to bear witness".  Our English word "martyr" / "one who bears witness by his death" comes from the root for these words = martyus /witness.

Question: Who is "John" who came to witness?

Answer: John ben Zechariah, son of a chief priest and therefore a chief priest himself. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets.

According to the Law, a chief priest served as a Deacon for 5 years from the age of 25-30.  In his 30th year he assumed his full duties in the hereditary priesthood (see Numbers 4:3 and 8:23). 

Question: The Gospel of Luke tells us that John was 6 months older than Jesus was (see Luke 1:36-38).  If Jesus was conceived circa March 25 and born December 25, as we calculate the months, (I tell you how we think the Fathers of the Church calculated that date later during Advent) when would John have been 30 years old? 

Answer: late in June.  As a matter of fact, John's feast day is June 24th

Question:  How is the fourth Gospel's first mention of John the Baptist different in the other 3 Gospels?  See Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:2.

Answer: In both Matthew's and Mark's Gospels, John is identified as "the Baptist" and in Luke as "John the son of Zechariah".  Only in the fourth Gospel is he identified only as "John". 

The other Gospel accounts clearly identify John as the Baptist and as the son of Zechariah to avoid confusion between the John the Baptizer and John the Apostle. 

Question: Why didn't the fourth Gospel author find in necessary to avoid this confusion?

Answer: If was understood that John the Apostle, the Bishop of Ephesus was the author of the fourth Gospel (as the Fathers of the Church testify) it would not be necessary to distinguish between them because it would be obvious that this account is about the Baptist.

Does it seem strange to you that this beautiful, poetic hymn should be suddenly interrupted this way? Such jarring switches in Scripture require more attention by the reader.  In Luke's Gospel more information is given about Yehohanan ben Zechariah's (John's name in Hebrew) birth and his relationship as a kinsman to Jesus but no other Gospel writer emphasizes John's unique role in Salvation History the way St. John's Gospel does.

Question: What was John the Baptist's kinship relationship to Jesus?   See Luke 1:36

Answer: His mother, Elizabeth, was Mary's kinswoman. Most Bible translations render this kinship word as "cousin".  The Greek word is sugenes [pronounced su-gen-ace] which in Greek is literally translated as "kinswoman or relative.  The word for "cousin" in Greek is anepsios [pronounces ah-nep-see-os]. This is not to say that Elizabeth was not a "cousin" of Mary but perhaps the more general term sugenes is used to indicate that she was not a "cousin" of the first degree.  Elizabeth was much older than Mary, perhaps considering how early girls married, older by two generations. 

Question: What else do we know about John the Baptist's parents?  See Luke 1:5-25

Answer: Both John's parents were descendants of the hereditary priesthood.  Zechariah traced his descent from Abijah (or Abia, 8th of the 24 divisions or courses of the Temple priesthood. See 1Chronicles 24:10)) and Elizabeth traced her lineage all the way back to the first high priest, Aaron, brother of Moses.  It should be noted that ultimately all high priests could trace their line back to Aaron and his sons because, according to the Law, the priesthood belonged to the clan of Aaron.  The importance of Luke's account is that Elizabeth was the daughter of a chief priest so John's hereditary claim to the priesthood was impeccable.

Question: Another interesting "relationship" questions is: What was John the Apostle's relationship or connection to the Baptist?  Read John 1:35-42, Acts 18:24-26, 19:1-7

Answer: Many scholars as well as the writings of the Fathers of the Church identify "the other disciple" of John the Baptist as John son of Zebedee the "beloved disciple".  This early connection with John and commitment to him could account for the special place he gives John in this Gospel as well as the fact that John did eventually settle in Ephesus, the most important city in Asia Minor (the 3rd most important city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, Egypt), and a city with a large number of former disciples of the Baptist.  John may have chosen this city because of that important core of believers that he may have known from his youth.  Note: the # 12 given in Acts 19 may not be a literal number but a "perfect number".  It is the number of perfection in government: 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles and now perfect Christian order at Ephesus.

 

 

The Prologue Part IV: The Coming of Christ and the Rejection of Christ

Please read verses 9-11: The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world.  He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognize him.  He came to his own and his own people did not accept him.

Verse 9"The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world." 

The Word is the true light because He is the light from which all other light/ revelation of God comes.  He comes into the world to enlighten all men so that through Him all the world will be transformed.  Just as in the first natural creation His light brought creation into being so now will His coming transform men and creation.

Verse 10-11 "He was in the world that had come into being through him and the world did not recognize him.  He came to his own and his own people did not accept him."

The Word came into the creation that He had created and the world He created did not recognize him. The next phrase is such a wrenching statement: "his own people did not accept him."

Question:  In what sense His "own people"?

Answer:  In the broadest sense all people belong to God by virtue of the fact that He created them.  But also in a narrower sense in that Israel had been set aside from all the peoples of the earth as a holy nation that belonged to God in a special way.  These were the people, the race from which God would come to earth as man and these people who shared his blood and flesh did not accept Him.

 

Prologue Part VI: The Acceptance of the Christ

Please read John 1:12-13 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself.

Think of the power of the statement in this verse! 

Question: "...to those who believed in his name.." What does this phrase mean? Hint see John 20:31 &1 John 5:1.

Answer: To those who believed Jesus is the Son of God the Messiah of Israel.  To these who believe God gave the power of divine son [and daughter]-ship.  1 John 5:1 "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God..."

It is also important to understand that to the ancients one's name expressed the sum of the qualities that marked the nature or character of that person.  To believe in the name of Jesus Christ is to accept as true the revelation contained in that name: that Jesus is fully man and fully God come to redeem the world.  St. Thomas Aquinas, the great biblical scholar and theologian wrote about this passage: "those who believe in his name are those who fully hold the same of Christ not in any way lessening his divinity or his humanity." [St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary of St. John, 1:12-13].

"he gave the power to become children of God.." The Greek word that is translated here as "power" is exousia .  In other Bible translations it may be rendered as "right".  The use of exousia in this passage does not indicate only the possibility or the ability to become "children of God", but legitimate right derived from the authority of the Word.  And it is only through the Word that we have this "power."

That Christ gave us the "power" is the same way of saying that He gave us a free gift and that gift was sanctifying grace. 

Question: How is this "free gift" extended to us through the Church? 

Answer: This gift is a supernatural infusion of grace, which is extended through the sacrament of Baptism to everyone.  The only condition is that we have faith.  The great St. Athanasius explained it this way: "The Son of God became man in order that the sons of men, the sons of Adam, might become sons of God.....He [Adam] is the son of God by nature; we, by grace.." (De Incarnatione contra arrianos).  This is the gift of divine son-ship and we cannot truly call ourselves "Children of God" until this miracle regenerates us with "new life" into the family of God.  It is what Jesus will reveal to Nicodemus in  John chapter 3.

John 1:13:  ...who were born not from human stock, or human desire or human will..  The more literal translation is: were begotten not of bloods [plural], nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God himself.

Question:  John defines this supernatural birth into divine son-ship in the negative by listing 3 ways we were not born into God's Covenant Family.  What are they?

Answer: 1) not of blood; 2) not of the will; and 3) not of the flesh

The Greek word for blood is actually in the plural form = "bloods".  To the ancients all bodily fluids were part of the life force.  In other words this is not a birth by the standards of nature: not by sperm= descent, not by desire or lust, and not generated by procreation through human power.  This is purely a supernatural birth from above; a free gift of faith and grace.

 

Part VII: The Incarnation of Christ and John's Witness of Christ

Please read John 1:14-18: The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.  John witnesses to him.  He proclaims: 'This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.'  Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received, one gift replacing another, for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Verse 14: The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth."

A more literal translation is "only begotten from the Father.  The use of the word "only- begotten" [monogene] is important because it is only used 5 times in the New Testament of Christ as the Son of God and it is used this way only in the writings of John the Apostle: John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18; and 1 John 4:9.

Jesus Christ the "only begotten Son" of God  (New Jerusalem translation)

 John 1:14

"the glory that he has from the Father as the only [begotten/monogene] Son of the Father,.."

 John 1:18

"No one has ever seen God; it is the only [begotten/monogene] Son, who is close to the Father's heart..."

 John 3:16

"For this is how God so loved the world: he gave his only [begotten/monogene] Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

 John 3:18

"No one who believes in him will be judged; but whoever does not believe is judged already, because that person does not believe in the name of God's only [begotten/monogene] Son."

 1 John 4:9

"This is the revelation of God's love for us, that God send his only [begotten/monogene] Son into the world that we might have life through him."

In each case the Greek texts use the word "monogene" = mono/only and gene/begotten. 

Question: Why is the meaning of this word "only begotten" so crucial to a correct understanding of these passages?

Answer:  This word clearly signifies that Jesus is not one of many god/sons and that He comes directly from the Father and not from an earthly father.  He is "begotten" He is not created. 

Question: What theological truth does this verse teach about the nature of Jesus: The Word became flesh.....the only begotten Son of the Father..?

Answer:  That the Word who is God became man.  Jesus is completely God and completely man.  Two natures and two wills, existing in perfect harmony in the one Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity [See CCC 467 & 475].  This passage expresses the unfathomable fact of the incarnation of the Son of God. Galatians 4:4 "..but when the completion of the time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born of a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law, so that we could receive adoption as sons."  It is what we profess in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed: "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being with the Father..."

In the 5th century the Church met in a Great Council to address the heresies that denied either Christ's true humanity or His true divinity. The Council pronounced the Church's teaching on the divinity and humanity of Christ: The Council of Chalcedon 451: "Following the holy Fathers, therefore, we all with one accord teach the profession of faith in the one identical Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  We declare that he is perfect both in his divinity and in his humanity, truly God and truly man, composed of body and rational soul; that he is consubstantial with the Father in his divinity, consubstantial with us in his humanity, like us in every respect except for sin (cf  Hebrews 4:15).  We declare that in his divinity he was begotten in this last age of Mary the Virgin, the Mother of God, for us and for our salvation."

The Title "Son of God"

In the Old Testament the title "son(s) of God" indicated a special relationship with the Almighty.  The heavenly messengers [in Greek angelos] are called "sons" of God in Job 1:6, 2:1; 38:7.  It was also a title given to a Judahite king at his enthronement [see Isaiah 9:5; Psalm 2:7; 89:27; 110:3] based on God's promise to David that his heir would be a "son" of God, beginning with Solomon [see 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13].  It is for this reason that Jesus deserved the title "son" of God both in His divinity and in His humanity as the Davidic heir and rightful King of Israel.  However, the chosen covenant people of Israel were also designated collective "sons" and "daughters" of God.  In Exodus 4:22, Hosea 11:1, and in Jeremiah 31:20 the term "son" is used in the singular for the collective sonship of Israel and in Hosea 2:1, Isaiah 1:2, and Jeremiah 3:19 in the plural. 

In the New Testament the title "Son of God" takes on a meaning not conveyed in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament the title expresses a unique relationship with God as the Father's "only begotten son," Jesus of Nazareth.  From the beginning this title characterized Jesus and His mission not only in the writings of St. John [1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18 and 1 John 4:9] but also in the Gospel of St. Luke [see Luke 1:35] and the Gospel of St. Mark.  In Mark 1:11 and 9:7 the title "Son" is revealed by God Himself.  Demon spirits also divulge Jesus' title as divine "Son" in Mark 3:11 and 5:7.  St. John declares that Jesus' title "Son of God" is the focus of the Jewish authorities' opposition to Jesus because it identifies His claim as the promised Messiah in John 5:18-20; 10:33; and 19:7. Jesus identifies those who make peace and those who love so genuinely as to offer God's love to their enemies as sons of God in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:9 and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:35.

In the Gospels Jesus called God "My Father" [i.e. Matthew 10:32-33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 19, 35; 26:39, 42, 53; Mark 14:36; Luke 10:21-22; 22:29, 42; 23:34, 46; John 5:17; 6:32, 44; 8:19, 38, 54; 14:28; 15:15; 20:17; etc.], but He distances Himself from the controversy surrounding the title "Son of God" until His trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin.  He finally acknowledges His unique relationship to God as "Son" of the Father in the Gospels by quoting from the prophecy of the Davidic Messiah in Psalms 110:1 and Daniel 7:13-14, sending the High Priest into a rage [Matthew 26:63-66; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 22:68-71] which results in Jesus' condemnation with the charge of blasphemy.  But in the end, it is the Gentile Roman officer in charge of Jesus' crucifixion who announces to the world: "Truly this man was the Son of God" in Mark 15:39, a fulfillment of the prophecy that the Gentile nations would come to do homage to the promised Davidic Messiah [see Isaiah 66:18-21; Ezekiel 34:13]! 

After His Resurrection His disciples recognized Him as Davidic Messiah and Lord and the true "Son of God."  It is for this reason that His title as "Son" is primarily used by the Church after Easter for it was after His Resurrection and Ascension that Jesus is enthroned in the Heavenly Sanctuary as the "Son of God" and King of Kings: ...but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages.  He is the reflection of God's glory and bears the impress of God's own being, sustaining all things by his powerful command; and now that he has purged sins away, he has taken his seat at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high.  So he is now as far above the angles as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name. [Hebrews 1:2-4].

John 1:15: John witnesses to him.  He proclaims: 'This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.'

Question: When was John chosen to witness to Jesus as the promised Messiah?

Answer: Before his birth.  John identifies himself as the one the prophet Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 40:3.  John will quote this passage himself in John 1:23.  The prophet Malachi also prophesied the one who would announce the Messiah in Malachi 3:1-2 Look, I shall send my messenger to clear a way before me.  And suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his Temple, yes, the angel of the covenant for whom you long, is on his way, says Yahweh Sabaoth.  Who will be able to resist the day of his coming...

 

Question:  What is John restating in the last phrase from this verse?

Answer: Jesus' pre-existence.

John 1:16-18: Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received, one gift replacing another, for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Another translation of this passage is "Indeed, from his fullness we have received grace upon grace..." The Fathers of the Church understood this passage to read as "grace for grace". St John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers saw this passage as giving testimony that the Old Testament economy of salvation giving way to the new economy of grace brought by Christ [in Greek economy means "plan" or "management"].  When applied to God the term refers to the major manifestations to the world of God's universal will to offer salvation to mankind.  This desire for universal salvation is summed up by St. Paul in his letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth; and also by St. Peter in 2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance.  It is our destiny to receive the gift of eternal life; however, whether or not we fulfill our destiny is entirely in our own hands.  God has also given us the gift of "free will" to accept or reject His precious gift.  See CCC 1730-32.

The words "grace for grace" in verse 16 can also mean that Jesus brings a super-abundance of grace (gifts) which adds on to the existing graces of the Old Covenant and all of which are poured out in superabundance through Christ through which the "waters of eternal life" flow unceasingly. 

John 1:17 for the first time John names Jesus, Yehosua in Hebrew, whose name means 'Yahweh saves' or more literally, 'I SAVE!'

Question: What is the difference between the Law of Moses and the grace that Jesus brings?

Answer: The Law was necessary to guide the people to a holy life but then no further.  The Law in itself was imperfect and could not offer "salvation" because original sin and other sins could not be removed only "covered" through animal sacrifice.  Even St. Paul as an Old Covenant Jew struggled with the Law: Romans 7:25 So it is that I myself with my mind obey the law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin.  The grace brought by Jesus has the power to not only to conquer and heal sin but to save those who receive His grace.  See CCC #1963.

John 1:18: No one has ever seen God.. In the Old Testament no one could see God and live.  Men saw God indirectly and they could contemplate God's "glory" as it was revealed in the burning bush or the Glory Cloud.  But through the mystery of the Incarnation God reveals Himself to us, and God the Son dwells among men.  "Dwells" in Scripture has the meaning of to "Tabernacle" as God tabernacled with the children of Israel in the desert so now He fills and indwells us as His holy Tabernacle.  In our Christ effused lives we have become the Temple or Tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.

John 1:18b: it is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Question: According to verse 18 from whom do we receive the revelation of God the Father? 

Answer: only from the God the Son.  The truth of the revelation is expressed in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum ,2: The most intimate truth which this revelation gives us about God and the salvation of man shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation.  There is no greater revelation God could give us of Himself than the Incarnation of the Eternal Word! 

Resources:

  1. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, Joachim Jeremias (Fortress Press, Philidelphia, 1969).
  2. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible; The Gospel of John, Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch     (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2002)
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  4. The Navarre Commentary: Gospel of John
  5. The International Critical Commentary
  6. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine (Huntington, Indiana, 1997)
  7. Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament
  8. Homilies of St. John Chrysostum: The Gospel of John
  9. St. Augustine: Homilies on the Gospel of St John
  10. Vatican II Documents: Dei Verbum
  11. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary
  12. On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius. Translated and edited by Sister Penelope Lawson,(New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1946).

Catechism of the Catholic Church references associated with John Chapter 1 (the asterisk following a text number indicates that the Scripture reference has been paraphrased in the Catechism reference).

Verse

CCC#

Verse

CCC#

1:1-3

241, 291,253-55

1:12

526, 1692

1:1

241, 454*, 2780*

1:13

496*, 505, 526

1:3

268*   

1:14

423, 445, 454*, 461

1:4

612*, 15, 280

1:16

423, 504

1:6

717

1:17

2787

1:7

719

1:18

151, 454*, 473*

1:9

1216

1:11

530

1:12-13

707*

1:12-18

1996*


Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.