1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. 14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
When I started this Red Letter Year thing back in January, I really didn’t know how it would go – or if it would go. Or more accurately, I wasn’t sure I would or could keep it going all year long. (Like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter, I hope I’m not jinxing myself here.) But here we are starting the book of John. I sat down the other day and mapped out to the end of the year and it works out perfectly (No, I hadn’t done that before. I just tried to keep each reading around 15 verses, following natural breaks as much as possible.)
As I read through today’s passage and thought about introducing John, it occurred to me that one thing I haven’t mentioned all year is the Book of Kells and the four depictions given, one for each Gospel. You can read more about them here, but the one that is relevant for us now is the eagle representing John’s Gospel, which takes a higher view than the others and often uses loftier writing. This is nowhere truer than right here in chapter 1. The language and theme are transcendent. John flies us back to the very beginning – of everything.
While Mark avoided any account of Jesus’ origin, both Matthew and Luke focused on the human birth of Jesus. John shares nothing of that (this will be a recurring trend, John shares very little with the other three); instead he shares – not the origin of Jesus – but the eternality of the Son and his essential part in the origin of all that exists. John gives us a cosmic view of Jesus (this will also be a trend), well beyond anything we have seen in the other three Gospels. There are three things I want to point out as we begin reading John.
First, about this cosmic thing, I meant that quite literally. One of John’s favorite words is the Greek word “kosmos” which we usually translate as “world,” but which can mean what we mean by cosmos as well. I will explain this more as we go, but to put it in a nutshell, John understands the world as loved by God, hostile to God, and yet saved by God all at the same time. We see those themes expressed here in the opening passage and we will see them quite often. God creates and loves the cosmos, the cosmos is hostile to God, but God’s love overcomes the cosmos’ hostility. I’m going to leave “world” as the translation has it, but keep this whole dynamic in mind, because John clearly had it in mind while writing. It will help you understand his account more deeply.
Another favorite word of John’s is one I am not going to leave alone because I think we need some correction regarding it. John uses the Greek word “pisteuo” a lot too, it is a verb that we usually translate as “believe,” but which means something closer to “trust.” When we think of believe, we either think of a specific set of doctrines we give mental assent to, or else we think of something like believing in the Tooth Fairy. John doesn’t mean either of those here. He means trust expressed in action – in fact John always uses the verb form here, never the noun. In Greek some words take one form for a verb and a slightly different form for a noun (we call these cognates). We use words as nouns and verbs in English too (like: fish, brush, etc.) but we don’t usually change the ending to indicate which way the word is being used (and this really confuses people trying to learn English). My point is, the Greek noun cognate is “pistis,” which we translate as “faith” – except John never once uses the noun form, he always uses the verb. This means John understands faith itself as an action, which is one reason “trust” is a better way to translate his idea into English. We think “believing” is a mental game, but we know “trust” requires more.
I have one more point, but I am going to save it for tomorrow. For now, please note carefully what John says here. Some Christians have a bad habit of referring to the Bible as the Word of God, but as I blogged a long time ago (in two parts), the Bible is not the Word of God (click to read). The Bible cannot be the Word of God because right here John tells us that Jesus is the Word of God (click to read). Maybe we could say the Bible is the word of God (lowercase w), but I think that is just confusing. The Bible is written record of the prophetic and apostolic witness about Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who is in himself the fullness of the revelation of God to humans. John tells us that the Word God spoke in the beginning, the Word by which the entire cosmos was created, is Jesus Christ. Everything that exists was created by him. This includes you and me and is a reaffirming of the creation account – both that God created all – and that you and I are created in the image of God. John makes clear from the outset that what matters most is that we have been created and loved by Jesus and reborn, not because of our bodies, or passions, or even our will, but because of Jesus’ unfailing love and faithfulness.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.