In the beginning was the Word,
en arche en ho logos
and the Word was with God,
kai ho logos en pros ton theon
and God was the Word.
kai theos en ho logos.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Here we have John stating without hesitation his view of the preincarnate Christ as God before all ages, and the eternal fellowship between the Father and the Son. In reality, the sameness of essence of the Word with the Father is attested, along with the distinctness of the persons of the Father and the Son. I shall now examine the three clauses of John 1:1.
In the beginning was the Word. John’s first two words in Greek echo the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) of Genesis 1:1–“In the beginning” (en arche). Thus, John’s primary intent is to draw the reader back to the Genesis account, when all things in the universe were created. At this time, writes John, the Word (logos) was (en). The imperfect tense form of the verb eimi (I am) is employed, signifying continuous action in the past. Thus, when all things in the universe were created, the Word already was, i.e., already existed. John is relating to us the eternal existence of the Word. Note also the entirely different verb ginomai (I become) in John 1:3 referring to the created cosmos. This verb tells of coming into existence: “All things came into being (egeneto [lit. “it became”], the imperfect tense form of ginomai) by Him…” John marks a clear distinction between the Word who always was, and the created order which came into existence. Here Jehovah’s Witnesses miss the point by numbering the logos with the rest of creation. The Word is not to be numbered among created beings, but is creator of all things. John 1:1a speaks of the eternal existence of the Word.
And the Word was with God. Again the imperfect was occurs–the Word always was with God. With (pros) means face to face, so implied here are two persons in eternal fellowship. Important also is the identity of “God,” with whom the Word was eternally. Not apparent in the English translations is the definite article (“the”; Gr. ho) with John’s first use of “God” (see ton theon)–“The Word was with the God.” What does John mean to communicate here? Who is “God” in the second clause of John 1:1? Our cross reference to 1 John 1:1-2 supplies the answer. Speaking of the incarnate Word in terminology reminiscent of the prologue to his Gospel, John states that He “was from the beginning,” He is “the Word of Life,” and that He “was with the Father” (en pros ton patera). Thus in John 1:1b “the God” with whom the Word eternally was is the Father.
And the Word was God. This all important clause is either mistranslated or reinterpreted by cults. This clause, however, teaches that the Word in His essential being is God, and that He is distinct from the Father in person. Two points drawn from the syntax of this clause will substantiate this.
First, recall that in the previous clause John uses the definite article when referring to the Father. In this context it is important to note that in John 1:1c the definite article is missing: kai theos en ho logos (and God was the Word). The text does not read kai ho theos en ho logos (and the God was the Word). Had John written “and the God was the Word” (and given that the identity of the God is the Father [clause b]), he would have taught that Jesus was the Father! By elimination of the article for theos in this clause, John carefully distinguishes the persons of the Father and the Son. The distinction of persons is also contextually warranted, for the Word was with the Father. Had John taught that the Word was the Father, it would have resulted in a contradiction of his use of pros (with, face to face) in 1:1b.
How, then, does theos function in 1:1c? It functions to express what the Word is in His essence or being. In other words, the Word is Himself God by His very nature, just as the Father is. The position of theos in 1:1c is before the verb was, and therefore describes what the subject of the clause (ho logos, the article makes it the subject) is ontologically, or in His essential being. Translating 1:1c as “the word was a god” (as do the Jehovah’s Witnesses) is therefore erroneous and misleading.