in the beginning was the word

In the beginning was The Word

St. John's Gospel

Explanation of the opening verse of St. John's gospel, (John 1:1)

In the beginning was The Word
and The Word was with God
and The Word was God

In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God and God was The Word

Your browser will probably not have a 1st Centuary Greek font installed by default so I have created the above line from the opening statement of John's Gospel as an image rather than actual text. However, you can download the Theodotus Font free of charge by clicking here and following the instructions, this will allow you to explore the text in more detail.

So now for the explanation:

The verse begins with En (pronounced 'en') which literally means In. However En can also be short for Ena (pronounced 'ena') which means the number 1. There is no doubt that John intended to start the gospel with En because it mirrors the opening words of the Book of Genesis but the number 1 is significant as in ancient Greek the number 1 is the start of everything. Before 1 there is nothing and 1 therefore represents the starting point.

The next word ARXE (pronounced 'ark hee') is where we get such words as Archaeology, Archaic and Chaos from. In English translations of the Bible we literally translate En Arxe as 'In the beginning'. However Arxe has a deeper meaning when it is broken up into syllables. The first syllable is Ar, the Alpha and the Ro, pronounced 'are', is significant because it is the very first utterance a baby makes when it is born, it's the sound of the breath of life. John uses this in 'The Revelation of John Chapter 22 Verse 13' when he recals God saying to him, 'I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last'. The Omega being the final 'O' sound a person makes as he exhales for the final time at the point of death.
The second syllable is XE significant as it is a common noun for 'land'. When the two syllables are put together as ARXE you have the birth of land.
Greek's would have immediately understood the meaning of John's words ENARCHE because in Greek Mythology the Earth Goddess Gaia was born from Chaos, the great void of emptiness. So, although in English we say 'In the beginning' you can see the Apostle John's Greek text is very rich in meaning.

The next word HN (pronounced In) simply means 'was'.

The next word O Logos (pronounced O Logos) is translated in English as The Word. The 'O' being the article, or 'The'. In Greek the article is placed in front of nouns and is spelt and pronounced differently depending on the characteristics of the noun that follows.

The word Logos is complicated and entire books have been written attempting to explain it. 'The Logos' is the noun used to represent the nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ before he was born human, Son of God and Son of Man. He is the Word of God through which all things were created. John describes him in Chapter 1 Verse 14 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth'.

The next word KAIsimply translates as 'And'.

The next significant phrase O LOGOS IN PROS TON THEON (pronounced O Logos In Pros Ton Theon) is translated into English as 'The Word was With The God', or more properly, The Word was With God. The interesting word here is PROS, translated into English as 'With'. It literally means 'Towards' and is still used today in modern Greek. A Road sign for instance might say 'Pros Athena' (towards Athens). Now lets think outside the box for a moment, think of the word 'Towards' and how you would describe its meaning to a child. You would probably say 'Towards means The Way To'. I think this is interesting as John uses the same word PROS in his Gospel when he records the words of Jesus in John 14:6 saying, 'I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me' . So you could translate it as 'The Word was the Way To God' as well as 'The Word was With God'. Technically both would be correct but in order to comply with the true meaning that John was conveying we should translate it as 'The Word was With God'.

Finally we get the last phrase KAI THEOS IN O LOGOS(pronounced 'Ky Theos In O Logos) which is the most important phrase as it describes the relationship between God and The Logos (Jesus prior to being born a human). It literally translates in to English as 'And God was The Word'. However in English we would more properly say, 'And The Word Was God' as we promote the objective noun to the beginning of the sentance and the subjective noun is demoted to the end.

Virtually all translations of the original Greek texts into English have translated this important verse correctly. However, The Watchtower and Bible Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses) have mistranslated the last phrase to read, 'and The Word was a god'. They justify this because of the lack of the article before Theos in KAI THEOS IN O LOGOS. However, this is an incorrect argument. Note, there are two nouns in the last phrase, 'Theos' and 'Logos'. In Greek, when there are two nouns, the subjective noun (the most important noun) of a sentence is always prefixed with the article to avoid any misunderstanding, remember the subjective noun is what the sentance is about. In English we avoid such misunderstanding by placing the subjective noun at the beginning of a sentence. Therefore, the direct, word-for-word translation would be, 'and God was The Word' is more properly written, 'and The Word was God'.

So, Why did St John use the term 'The Logos' ('The Word')?

After all, he is the only New Testament writer to use it. Well, the Apostle John obviously wanted to deal with the question, 'who, (or what) was Jesus both prior to his birth and after his birth as a human? As a human he was often referred to as both 'Son of Man' and 'Son of God'.

  1. He was 'Son of Man' because he was born of Mary and therefore a descendant of her family line. From the writings of the New Testament we read that he referred to himself as ' Son of Man' 88 times. The phrase 'Son of Man' is also found in the writings of the Profit Daniel Chapter 7:13-14 in which he says, 'In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.' So, when Jesus referred to himself as 'Son of Man' he was assigning the prophecy of Daniel to himself. The Jewish leaders and people to whom he spoke would have been well versed in the scriptures and would have immediately understood the significance of the use of the term.

  2. He was 'Son of God' because he was conceived through The Holy Spirit of God. The angel (Gabriel) announced to the Virgin Mary...'and behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus'. Then said Mary unto the angel, 'How shall this be, seeing I know not a man'? And the angel answered and said unto her, 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God' (Luke Chapter 1:Verse 30 onwards).

He therefore could rightly claim to be both. However:

'Who, or what was Jesus before he was born a human'?

Remember, according to St John, The Logos (or The Word) Was With God at the very beginning of all creation and that, 'The Logos Was God'. Perhaps it is easier to think of him as the Executive, through whom God created all things and communicated with mankind.

Consider some of the writings of the Old Testament in which The Logos (or Word) was mentioned, in particular the following verses:

Psa 33:6 By The Word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
Psa 107:20 He sent his Word, and healed them, and delivered [them] from their destructions.
1Ki 13:1 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
1Ch 17:3 And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,

Also consider some New Testament verses:

Acts 10:36 The word which [God] sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all)
Acts 11:16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

The term 'Logos' was also used by stoic philosophers, beginning with Heraclitus, to name the rational principle by which the universe and everything in it exists.  Heraclitus, along with Parmenides, is probably the most significant philosopher of ancient Greece prior to Socrates and Plato. Heraclitus, like Parmenides, postulated a model of nature and the universe which created the foundation for all other speculation on physics and metaphysics. The ideas that the universe is in constant change and that there is an underlying order or reason to this change which he called The Logos of God.

The Apostle John knew that his reference to 'The Logos' in his Gospel would be understood by the people of his day from Greeks to Jews and the growing Christian community. With the statement, 'In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God and The Word was God' the Apostle John made the case very clear for all to understand that The Word that became flesh Was actually God.