John 1:1-18

Star of Bethlehem lights up all of creation.

 "Star of Bethlehem lights up all of creation." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:2 He was with God in the beginning. John 1:3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. John 1:7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. John 1:8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. John 1:9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. John 1:10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- John 1:13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'"  John 1:16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

Westcott:The writer sets forth what is matter of experience to him with complete conviction and knowledge. Nothing can be farther from the appearance of introducing any new teaching. The Evangelist takes for granted that his readers understand perfectly what he means by 'the Word', 'the Father'. He does not expressly affirm but assumes the identification of the Word with Jesus Christ.

Matters grammatical:

  1. Tenses of verbs: In verse 1, the verb means "already was" (thrice). Likewise twice in verse 4. In verse 8 it means "was" from the Baptist's birth on. In verse 10 it means "was" from the incarnation to ascension. "Made" twice in 3, means "came into being," in 6 "came," in 10 "came into being," in 14 "became" and in 17 "came." "Shines," 5, covers both Testaments. "Might come to faith," 7, is ingressive. "Recognize," 10 is either "recognize" (ingressive) or "know" (constative). In 14 distinguish "became and still is" flesh whereas "dwelt" denotes only Jesus' life on earth.
  2. "But-and," in 1 it is used twice to coordinate three clauses. Twice in 5: first is conjunctive, second adversative "but." Twice in 10: first "and although" second "yet." Four in 14: first is narrative "now" second resultative "and so," third and fourth conjunctive. In 16 it is plainly epexegetical (explanatory) "namely." 
  3. Articles (or their lack) are important. THE Word, THE life, THE Light, excludes all other possibilities. He ALONE is THE Word, Life and Light. In 4, "all" with "men" is generic, denoting all men. In 17 the article with "grace" and "truth" is called anaphoric, referring back to these same words introduced in verse 14 without article.
  4. Case usages:  "Men" in 4 is objective genitive. "God,"  12, is subjective genitive. Monergistic. "Human" and "husband,"  13, are adjectival genitive. Mere fleshly or human will cannot cause rebirth or conversion.
  5. Note emphatic position of "God," 1, and "God," 18. In verse 1 "Word" is subject because it has the article. "God"  denotes Jesus' nature as to His own person. In 1 and 2 "the God" denotes the person of the Father. Look at Genesis 1:26.
  6. "To become," 12, is epexegetical infinitive. It answers the question: "In what respect" did God give them "right" 
  7. The antecedent "seen his glory" in 14, is the disciples of Jesus, but of His glory and grace in 16, the antecedent is much wider. The grace of God is available to anyone who reads this.

Word Studies:

  1. "Word" pertaining to Christ, is peculiarly Johannine, here in John 1, 1 John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13. Philo used this word 1300 times but its meaning in Philo is never very definite. Whether John even knew of Philo's "logos" is impossible to say. Hendricksen says, "Christ is THE WORD OF GOD in two respects: he expresses or reflects the mind of God; also, he reveals God to man."  Lenski: "Christ is the Logos because in him all the purposes, plans, and promises of God are brought to a final focus and an absolute realization." Luther: "From eternity He was within God's paternal heart, and through Him God resolved to create heaven and earth. But no man was aware of such a resolve until the Word became flesh and proclaimed this to us." 
  2. "Life." BAG: "Of the supernatural life belonging to God and Christ which the believers will receive in the future, but which they also enjoy here and now." It is found 36 times in this Gospel.
  3. "Light."  Hendricksen:  "Whereas the Word (Christ) is the One IN whom the LIFE resides and BY whom it is made to shine forth as LIGHT, he is also himself THE LIGHT (1:9; 8:12; 1 John 2:8). Like the sun in the sky this light shines forth in the mother-promise (Genesis 3:15), in the book of Exodus with its Passover Lamb. ..yea, in all the historical, prophetical, and poetical books of the old dispensation." (The whole passage is worth reading.)
  4. "Darkness." The whole Gospel of John proves the theological observation that, since the fall, human nature is blind, dead and an enemy of God.
  5. "World."  Occurs seventy-seven times in this Gospel. Its precise meaning must always be determined contextually. It occurs thrice in verse 10. 1) among men; 2) the entire creation; 3) the unbelieving among men.
  6. "Faith" occurs ninety-five times in this Gospel. Its primary meanings are "to come to faith" or "to grow in faith." 
  7. "Understood," 5, does it mean "comprehend" (KJV, NASB) or  "extinguish" (RSV, Phillips, Beck, NEB)? The word can have either meaning.
  8. "Right," 12, Westcott: "The word does not describe mere ability, but legitimate, rightful authority, derived from a competent source which includes the idea of power. Cf. 5:27; 10:18; 17:2; 19:10.11; Revelation 2:26 etc. This right is not inherent in man, but 'given' by God to him." 
  9. "Truth," 14, Thayer: "The truth, as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, opposed alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and to the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians." 
  10. "Only-begotten" NIV:  "one and only." In Johannine literature used only of Jesus. Does it or doesn't it teach the eternal generation of the Son from the Father? The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds say it does. Likewise Luther's explanation to the Second Article of the Creed and the Smalcald Articles, Part 1,2. Thayer's Lexicon denies it. BAG says it means either "unique" or "only-begotten."  Buechsel, Kittel IV, 740-741, is a little more definite than BAG but leaves doubt in one's mind. Of our translations only KJV, NASB and Beck (second edition) translate "only begotten." The others translate "only," evidently in the sense of "unique."  THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS MATTER.

Difficult Verses:

  1. Does the relative clause at end of 3 go with 3 or with 4? Ante-Nicean Fathers took it with 4. Post-Nicean Fathers and MSS take it with 3. It is thoroughly discussed in the UBS Textual Commentary wlllch concludes, for several reasons, that it must go with 3. Only WH and NEB take it with 4.
  2. Could verse 13 refer to the Virgin Birth of Christ? Lenski thinks so. He reads inferior variants to substantiate this view. According to his view the relative pronoun "Christians" should read "Christ." His interpretation is not recommended.
  3. Verse 9 involves two grammatical problems: Because of these problems, three translations are possible:

aa) That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Luther, KJV, Phillips.

bb) The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. RSV, NEB, Beck (periphrastic)

cc)There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. NASB (not periphrastic)

Scripture rejects conversion by mere physical birth, universalism, and a limited atonement. Luther, using translation aa) says: "There is only one light that lighteth all men, and no man comes into the world who can possibly be illumined by any other light." Hendricksen claims to find the limited atonement in John in general and in this verse 9 in particular: "He illumines every man who hears the Gospel; i.e., he imparts a degree of understanding concerning spiritual matters (not necessarily resulting in salvation) to all those whose ears and minds are reached by the message of salvation." 

Additional Thoughts:

  1. It is suggested, along with WH and RSV, that verse 15 is parenthetical or a sub thought. (That does not mean that the thought is not important.) It corroborates the incarnation in verse 14. The clause in 16 goes back to verse 14.
  2. Verse 14 is a sedes doctrinae on the incarnation of Jesus. It is unique. Cf. the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. This passage rejects: 1. Arianism which denies Christ's co-eternity and co-essentiality with God the Father. 2.  Docetism  which maintains that Christ was only seemingly, but not really, a human being. 3.  Eutychianism  which teaches that the human nature in Christ was absorbed, swallowed up, by the divine nature. 4.  Nestorianism  which maintains that there was no communion of natures in the person of Christ. 5.  Monarchianism  which rejects the Trinity, maintaining that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are only manifestations of one God.
  3. NIV renders 16 thus: "From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another."  All of Scripture rejects synergism which means that man has ability to decide and believe. Lutheranism is extremely sensitive about synergism. NIV reads verse 13: "Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will but born of God." 
  4. Verses 5, 10 and 11 contain instances of litotes.
  5. In the American Edition of Luther's Works, vol. 22, pp. 1-158, we have Luther's eleven sermons on verses 1-18! You'll hardly exhaust this text with one sermon. Much can be learned from Luther's sermons.
  6. If you have time read Tappert, F.C., S.D., VIII, Person of Christ, paragraph 55 on John 1:3.10.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 22-24. Used with permission.

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