In quoting Leon Morris in his Commentary on the Gospel of John (NICNT, 1995, p.3), "I like the comparison of John's Gospel to a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim," I may have just put some into the deeper end!
Take a look and see how I might have drowned them.
John's Prologue (1:1-18)
I began the bible study with 3 discussion questions:
1. What is a Prologue, and its function?
· προ-λογος, pro-logos: for-word
· An introduction to a piece of writing or work of art
· It sets the stage and prepares the audience
· It gives a preview to what's ahead
2. What did John’s Prologue achieve for John?
· It introduces his audience to the entire Gospel of John
3. Study the Prologue and highlight:
· Key words/phrases
· Repeated words/phrases
· Unique construction and usage of words/phrases
· Allusions to any other parts of Scriptures
The third discussion question was useful because it helped draw out a lot of key themes in the Prologue that served as a preview for John's message in the Gospel. It also helped instil a good habit in studying the bible.
We then plunged into the verses. For good or bad, I actually began with a warning, and a promise: I warned them that tackling the first two verses in John will take some doing, but promised them that I will only do such detailed for these two verses. I also vowed that I will only do these very two verses in Greek, and none other. I explained why I am doing it and with that I moved on.
εν αρχη ην ο λογος,
en arche en ho logos,
In the beginning was the Word,
και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον,
kai ho logos en pros ton theon,
and the Word was with God,
και θεος ην ο λογος.
kai theos en ho logos.
and the Word was God.
εν αρχη ...
- Alludes to the OT: αρχη denotes “the beginning”, an absolute one; the opening verse of Genesis; therefore the expression would be a well-known one
- Might allude to Mark, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1): while Mark introduces the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, John begins with Jesus before time began
... ην ο λογος ...
- In the beginning, the Word was already in existence - the verb “was” is most naturally understood of the eternal existence of the Word; the Word continually was
- There never was a time when the Word was not
- It makes very clear that the Word was not created - it is of utmost importance
- The Word may have its background in the Greeks and Jews
... και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον ...
- The preposition προς denotes a relationship between two different parties, as such “the Word” is a person, distinguished from the Father
- “The Word was with God” is probably as good a translation as we can manage for a difficult Greek expression
- Not only did he exist in the beginning but he existed in the closest possible connection with the Father
... και θεος ην ο λογος ...
- A careful translation is demanded by the Greek structure
- Word order in Greek is employed especially for the sake of emphasis
- ο λογος : has an article, the Word is the subject
- Two key questions:
(1) why is θεος in the front: Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes the Father has
(2) why there is no article to θεος: Jesus Christ is not the Father
- This phrase alone is compact and beautiful – one of the most elegant tense theological statements one could ever find.
- Martin Luther: the lack of article is against Sabellianism (και ο λογος ην ο θεος, and the Word was the Father) and the word order is against Arianism (και ο λογος ην θεος, and the Word was a god)
- All that can be said about God may fitly be said about the Word
- This statement should not be watered down – “the Logos was divine”
- John is affirming that he is God
- c.f. 1:18, 20:28
The movement in the declaration:
The Word has his own personal existence --> his own personal character in relation with the FatherThe group recognised that this one simple verse of 17 words (both in the general English translation and Greek) is so packed with theological truth: that Jesus is eternal, he is personal and he is God. I acknowledged that I have brought them through quite a lot, but when I asked them if they found that they have at least learnt one wee bit as compared to before, when they merely read it as a verse in the bible, there were some nodding heads. I was glad - I then reiterated I will not make them suffer so much from then on.
--> but they are one
He was in the beginning with God.
I highlighted that verse 2 is a repetition of the first two portions of the first verse, and then told them that even as I was preparing for the lesson, I had a question. Taking into consideration that John repeats himself for the sake of emphasis, why did he only repeat the first two phrases, when the last phrase of the first verse is just as important?
I wondered if it was to reinforce the first verse or as a reason for the third phrase of verse 1. But Ann gave a very convincing possibility. John repeats only the first two phrases of verse 1 and then takes the remaining of the Prologue to expound the third phrase - which concludes with v.18: No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
And now that I look at it, v.18 is quite a reminiscent of verse 1.
*In the beginning was the Word
*No on has seen God at any time
*and the Word was with God
*the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father
*and the Word was God
*He has explained Him
I concluded the bible study with an application question:
How does understanding John 1:1-2 make a difference in your walk with God?Again, I will quote Morris:
"It is both simple and profound. It is for the veriest beginner in the faith and for the mature Christian. Its appeal is immediate and never failing ... years of close study of this Gospel do not leave one with a feeling of having mastered it, but rather with the conviction that it is still "strange, restless, and unfamiliar."
How utterly true.
But my last words for the group before they dispersed were, "Please come back next week!"
Photo © 2008 Joseph Hoban
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Leicester: Apollos, 2006.
Mounce, William D. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.
Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.