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What, in John 1, is ‘the Word’?

21 February 2014


Your answers

What was "the Word" of "In the beginning was the Word", of John 1.1?

The Prologue of St John's Gospel (1.1-18) may have been deliberately added by the Evangelist in order to explain the significance of what he had already written in his Gospel. For this purpose, "the Word", or, in Greek, the Logos, was the definitive expression that points to Jesus.

In the Gospel, the words and action-signs of our Lord are to be seen and understood as the working out in human history of the pre-existent divine and personal Word that is the self-utterance of God. In a phrase used by the late B. H. Streeter, in "the Word" of John 1.1 we discover that "the meaning of the Infinite was spoken out." In this respect, John's Prologue bears comparison with the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews: "God has spoken to us by a Son . . . through whom he also created the worlds . . . and sustains all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1.1-3).

In the Prologue, a movement of "the Word" is traced from eternity to time: "He was in the beginning with God" (John 1.2), "all things came into being through him" (John 1.3), and "in him was life and life was the light of all people" (John 1.4). He came into the world, but was rejected by his "own", but accepted by believers, who are enabled to become children of God (John 1.11-12). All this foreshadows the Gospel story of that same Word who pitched his tent among us when he became flesh (John 1.14).

Because Prologue and Gospel are inseparable, it is possible to see that, however wide the intellectual background to Word-Logos may have been, the Evangelist treats it not primarily as philosophical speculation (beloved by Philo, Stoics, and others), but as the hidden gospel truth about Jesus.

This is abundantly illustrated in the Gospels. When, for example, John 1.1 affirms the pre-existence of the "Word-Logos", this is echoed in John 17.5: "glorify me . . . with the glory I had in your presence before the world existed."

The life-giving and light-bearing Word of John 1.4 is pre-eminently seen in Johannine "signs": the raising of Lazarus and the statement "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11.25), and the giving of sight to the man born blind (John 9), with sayings such as "I am the light of the world, and whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8.12).

In a remarkable way, the Prologue comes full circle at John 1.18. The Word, with God at the beginning, is indeed the one who is "close to the Father's heart" (or "in the Father's bosom"). The only Son has made the Father known or "interpreted him" (exegesato): as Jesus declares, "whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14.9).

(Canon) Terry Palmer

Magor, Monmouthshire


In Genesis 1.1 we read: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"; verse 2 mentions the Spirit of God; and from verse 3 onwards, many times we have the words: 'God said . . . and it was so," i.e. his words effect the deed; for that which God speaks is his Word, and his Word brings about his will.

John equates God's Word - which in the beginning did not have human form - with the incarnate Jesus who came to dwell among us (v.14: "And the Word was made flesh"). He emphasises that God's Word co-existed with God from the very beginning; and that it was through God's Word that "all things were made" (John 1.3).

That the incarnate Jesus possessed this same power (of will, word, and deed) is shown in St Matthew's Gospel, when the Roman centurion acknowledges that Jesus has only to "speak the word" and healing will occur (Matthew 8.8).

In Genesis 1.1-3, we are shown the Holy Trinity working together: God, Spirit, and Word. Later, in the New Testament, after "the Word" has become flesh, the Holy Trinity is described as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Alison Rollin

Ruislip, London


Your questions

Why are there "Introits and Anthems" at the back of The English Hymnal, and what are we meant to do with them?

P. M.

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