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John 1:1-18: The Prologue

“(1)In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was

God. (2)He was in the beginning with God. (3)All things came into being through Him, and apart

from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (4)In Him was life, and the life was

the Light of men. (5)The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (6)

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. (7)He came as a witness, to testify

about the Light, so that all might believe through him. (8)He was not the Light, but he came to

testify about the Light. (9)There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens

every man. (10)He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not

know Him. (11)He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. (12)But as

many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who

believe in His name, (13)who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of

man, but of God. (14)And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory,

glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (15) John testified about Him

and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank

than I, for He existed before me.’ (16)For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon

grace. (17)For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus

Christ. (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.” (NASB)1

1
All references are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted. All subsequent references are
noted parenthetically.

1
Survey

The prologue of John’s gospel presents the reader with many Christological and

theological implications. Christ is shown to be the preexistent Word, but not just any Word, but

the Word. He was God, He is God, and He has always and will always be God. John shows the

reason for Jesus’ coming and the response of the reader to Jesus’ earthly ministry as the pre-

incarnate, preexistent Word of God.

Historical Context

Authorship

There is much to be said of the Historical context of John’s gospel, especially in

relation to the date and authorship. Like the other gospels, the author is presumably unknown

and there is much debate as to who wrote the gospel. “John in fact is often viewed as somehow

more anonymous that the other three (gospels), by those who prefer to speak of Matthew, Mark,

Luke and ‘The Fourth Gospel’.”2 The author of this gospel is more debated than any of the other

gospels, but all of the gospels had “according to” attached to them at some later date for the

purpose of gaining popularity and fame.3 It would have been very common when these letters

circulated, to attach the apostle’s names to each one of the gospels. “For this reason it was

assumed (almost unanimously) in the ancient church that ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ who

was said to have written the gospel we are discussing, was named ‘John’.”4 The John that most

2
Michaels, J. Ramsey. "Introduction." In The Gospel of John, 5. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B.
Eerdmans Pub, 2010.
3
Carson, D. A. "Introduction." In The Gospel according to John, 68. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity
Press, 1991. The “according to” is κατα followed by the name of the apostle.
4
Michaels, Gospel of John, 6.

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commentators refer to is also under speculation; “There is no lack of suggestions as to who he

may have been: after John the Apostle, Lazarus is a favorite nomination; in addition, John Mark,

Matthias, Paul, the Presbyter John…”5

Most commentators lean towards the authorship of John the Son of Zebedee. The

widespread evidence comes from two places: external evidence: information outside the text of

the gospels that has a bearing on the composition of the gospels and internal evidence: readings

based on the differences between the readings, not between the manuscripts in which they were

found. There are two types of internal evidences: transcriptional and intrinsic. Several

commentators agree that the internal evidence as well as the external evidence both point

towards the author, (Hiebert, Blomberg, Michaels, Beasley-Murray, Carson, Kostenberger,

Keener), whomever he may be. The external evidence comes from many sources, Theolophlis of

Antioch, Irenaeus, Ptolemy, Polycrates, Eusebius and Papias. These scholars have many

differing views and some are not even worth taking seriously, however we must still take

seriously “the unanimous tradition of the church that author of the Gospel was ‘John,’ while

avoiding the difficulties now frequently associated with the traditional ascription to John the son

of Zebedee.”6 The tradition of the early church no doubt supports the claim of John son of

Zebedee, the evidence does support the idea, “It is at least possible that this Gospel is ‘According

to John’ not because someone named John is the actual author but because of the early mention

of ‘John’ in 1:6 and the prominence of John’s testimony in the Gospel’s first three chapters.”7

The evidence for John as author comes mostly from the internal evidence, “it is
5
Murray, George Raymond. "Introduction." John. Lxxiv. Second Edition. Waco, Tex.: Word Books,
1987. Murray however doesn’t hold to any author, by name that is. He goes on to state that we don’t know the name
of the author, therefore his work is anonymous, but remains a monumental work of scripture.
6
Michaels, Gospel of John, 12. Although Ramsey here states his disagreement with the church, he later
states, “The church of nineteen centuries has identified him with the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, and that long
tradition deserves utmost respect… His claim to authorship is unmistakable, yet his anonymity (whatever the
original readers of the Gospel might have known) is both conspicuous and deliberate” (24).
7
Michaels, Gospel of John, 17.

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generally agreed today that the author of the fourth Gospel was Jewish. The author accurately

understand Jewish customs, is steeped in the Old Testament, is aware of finer points of

distinction among pre-70 Jewish sects, and is concerned to demonstrate Jesus as the true

fulfillment of the Law and numerous rituals and institutions of Judaism.”8 Blomberg also goes on

to say, “It is equally common to find current critics agreeing that the author was from Palestine.

His knowledge of the geography and topography of Israel is excellent, particularly in Jerusalem

and the surrounding Judean countryside.”9 Blomberg also states the author was most definitely

one of the twelve, “The claim of John 21:24 is that the individual referred to at several points in

the Gospel as ‘the beloved disciple’…was the author of the work or at least a very substantial

core of it.”10 The evidence does seem to point to John as author, especially with his close

relationship to Jesus and his involvement with the twelve.

The overall consensus among scholars points towards John the son of Zebedee as the

author, but for some such as D.A. Carson, it doesn’t matter the author, but rather the

interpretation of the document “If, then, we tentatively affirm that the beloved disciple is both

John the son of Zebedee and the fourth Evangelist, what difference does it make to our

interpretation of the Fourth Gospel? A New Testament book is not more authoritative or more

transparent because it has an apostle as its writer…”11 The author of the Fourth Gospel seems to

be difficult to pin point, but the evidence seems to point to John the son of Zebedee. Blomberg’s

research and evidence for the author is the most compelling and is supported by this paper.

Dating the Gospel

8
Blomberg, Craig. "Introduction." The historical reliability of John's gospel: issues & commentary.
Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002. 27. Print.
9
Blomberg, The historical reliability of John's gospel: issues & commentary, 27.
10
Blomberg, The historical reliability of John’s gospel: issues & commentary, 29.
11
Carson, The Gospel according to John, 81.

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The dating of the New Testament books, in particular the gospels, creates difficulty in

determining the date. Now that an author has been determined (to some extent), The date is the

next task. “ In recent years there has been a reaction on the part of a number of scholars to

assigning a late date to the Gospel, believing it to be either contemporary with or earlier than the

synoptic Gospels, but in any case prior to A.D. 70.”12 The dating has ranged anywhere from pre-

70 to late second century, however any dates in the second century “are now pretty well ruled out

of court by the discovery of Papyrus Egerton.”13 Carson goes on to state,

It is hard to believe that, if the Fourth Gospel were written after AD 70, the date was
immediately after AD 70, say AD 72. The reverberations around the Empire, for both Jews and
Christians, were doubtless still too powerful. A little time needed to elapse before a document
like the Fourth Gospel could be free not to make an explicit allusion to the destruction of the
temple…A date of AD 80-85 for the publication of the Gospel of John seems reasonable.14

Even amid much evidence for these dates, some scholars aren’t convinced, “No

precise date for the writing of the Gospel of John can be established.”15 J. Ramsey Michaels

takes a similar stance, “As to the date, we are similarly at a loss. The Gospel obviously predates

the Rylands fragment, and if the author was, as he claims, an eyewitness, it is almost certainly

written within the first century.”16 It seems the traditional late date of 80s to the 90s is the most

common among scholars. The earlier dates (pre-AD 70), and the extreme late dates (late second

century), don’t seem to hold any water when compared with the evidence of a late first century

dating, “Yet, while it is true that the external evidence focuses primarily on John’s age and

location… the subsequent conviction of the church that became the ‘traditional’ position should

12
Murray, John, Introduction.
13
Carson, The Gospel according to John, 82.
14
Carson, The Gospel of John, 85-86.
15
Hiebert, An Introduction to The New Testament, Three-Volume Collection, 222.
16
Michaels, Gospel of John, 38.

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probably be accepted, dating the Fourth Gospel either late 80s or to the 90s.”17

A date of 80-85 as proposed by Carson, seems the most plausible, but the tradition of

the church cannot be ruled out; prominent scholars and theologians have held it for several

hundreds of years and to rule it out all together would be disregard for credible scholarship. As

difficult as dating the Fourth Gospel is, a date somewhere between 80-90 is the most likely.

Historical Setting

Like the date and author of the Fourth Gospel, the historical setting is also difficult to

determine. But if a later first century date of AD 80-90 is held, as well as a Jewish Palestinian

context, a few things can be determined. The Fourth Gospel was written sometime after the most

disastrous event in Christianity: the destruction of the temple. The destruction of the temple

marked the downfall of the mighty Roman Empire and the scattering of Christians from Rome.

The church would have been shaken to its core to have their place of worship destroyed.

The other significant historical issue of John’s day would have been the rise of

Gnosticism. The doctrines of these pre-Christian pagan, Jewish and early Christian sects, valued

the revealed knowledge of God, the origin and end of the human race as a means to attain

redemption for the spiritual element in humans that distinguish the demiurge from the

unknowable divine being. This was a major threat to the claims of Jesus, not least the claims of

John and his writings concerning Jesus. Some scholars have even argued John wrote to refute

these doctrines and steer their advocates towards the doctrines of Christianity. The danger of

Gnosticism was the most major threat to John’s writing, but it doesn’t seem likely the reason he

17
Blomberg, Craig. "Introduction." In The historical reliability of John's gospel: issues & commentary,
44. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002.

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wrote was to refute. He makes his thesis statement clear in 20:31: “but these things have been

written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you

may have life in His name.”18

It is clear that John does not write to refute Gnosticism, but to prove Jesus to be who

He said He was. The setting of the Fourth Gospel would have been a time of much oppression

and hardship not only for the Christians, but also more particularly for the writer of the Gospel,

John.

Exegesis

John 1:1-18

(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

(2)He was in the beginning with God.

The first verse of the prologue is steeped in theological overtones, Old Testament

allusions and Christological significance. The opening words of the John’s gospel “unmistakably

echo Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’”19 “In the beginning

recalls Gen. 1:1, but it relates here not to the act of creation, but to what existed when creation

came into being, namely the Word, who was with God and was God.”20 “In the beginning [i.e.

prior to creation] was the Word. This locates Jesus’ existence in eternity past with God and sets

the stage for John’s lofty Christology, which is unmatched by any of the other canonical

gospels… The term ‘the Word’ conveys the notion of divine self-expression or speech.”21 “In

18
NASB
19
Michaels, Gospel of John, 46.
20
Murray, John, 10.
21
Beale, G. K., and D. A. Carson. "John." Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old
Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic;, 2007. 421. Print.

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terms of relationship, not only does πρoς establish a relationship between God and the Word, but

it also distinguishes the two from each other.”22 Kostenberger goes on to state “It is one thing for

the Word to be with God, it is quite another thing for the Word to be God… John as a

monotheistic Jew would have hardly of referred to another person as ‘a god’.”23 There is also

much debate as to the deity of Jesus in the first verse. The point of verse two is “the Word was

God’s companion in the work of creation.”24 John reiterates the first verse in the second for the

purpose of repetition.

(3) All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being

that has come into being. (4) In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

The third and fourth verses shift from the “Word being God and His divine essence, to

proving His divinity from His works.”25 “The creative activity of the Logos is the activity of God

through Him.”26 All things came into being through God and for that reason, through the Word

Not all things were created, but all things created were created through the Word…
The contrast is not…between things created through the Word and things created in the Word,
but between things that came into being through the Word and things that did not come into
being at all, but always were. The latter, being attributes of God, are also attributes of the
Word.27

“John’s contention, however, is that everything--- that is, the κoσμος (world), of 1:10-

came into through ‘Him,’ that is, Jesus, God-made-flesh…”28 The very first thing John does is

state what first came into to being, that is life, “The evangelist emphatically asserts that

22
Köstenberger, Andreas J. John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004. Print, 27.
23
Kostenberger, John, 28.
24
Michaels, Gospel of John, 48.
25
Kostenberger, John, 29.
26
Murray, John, 11.
27
Michaels, Gospel of John, 54.
28
Kostenberger, John, 29.

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everything owes its existence to the Word.”29 He then states the origin of life

Light makes it possible for life to exist. Thus on the fifth and sixth days of creation
God made animate life…culminating in His creation of Humankind. Now John asserts that life
was ‘in Him,’ Jesus. He is the source of life, both spiritual and physical.30

(5) The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

“In the present Gospel, ‘darkness’ is the world estranged from God, spiritually

ignorant and blind, fallen and sinful, dominated by Satan.”31 The light shines and the darkness

literally cannot “grasp, seize, or master the Light.”32

(6) There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. (7)He came as a witness, to

testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. (8)He was not the Light, but

he came to testify about the Light.

John has come on to the scene and plays a major role n ushering Jesus in, “Just as all

things came into being through the Word, so John ‘came’ as one sent from God.”33

(7) He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.

(8)He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light

John’s main objective was not his own, “John was sent by God to carry out a

particular mission, in distinction from, but in relation to, Jesus.”34 His goal was to testify about
29
Ibid, 30.
30
Ibid, 30.
31
Ibid, 31.
32
Michales, John, 57.
33
Ibid, 59
34
Kostenberger, 32.

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the light, but he himself was not the Light. In the other gospels, the Pharisees come and ask John

if he is Elijah, or perhaps the Messiah, but John’s answer is that he is proclaiming the way for the

One to come. It is no different here, He is not the Light, but rather has come to testify about the

light.

(9) There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. (10) He was

in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. (11)

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. (12) But as many as

received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who

believe in His name, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the

will of man, but of God. (14) And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw

His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

“In 1:9-14, the categories of 1:1-5 are brought back, but this time they are explored in

the light of their kerygmatic implications.”35 The true light is coming into the world is a “very

subtle way of conveying the gospel to Hellenistic ears… The coming of the Messiah frequently

is depicted in the Old Testament in terms of light. By affirming that Jesus is the true light, just as

He is ‘true bread from heaven’ (6:32) and the true vine (15:1), John indicates that Jesus is the

fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and expectations.”36 John not only shows Jesus to be the Old

Testament expectation of the Messiah but also “As the true light, Jesus here is presented as the

source of [spiritual] light.”37 “In the face of false claims…the authentic Light is affirmed to be

the Word who illuminates the existence of every man.”38 In verse 10 “the Gospel writer wants to

35
Ibid., 34.
36
Ibid., 35.
37
Ibid., 35.
38
Murray, John, 12.

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remind us of creation, and that the entire created order came into being through ‘the Word,’ now

further identified as ‘the Light’.”39 “The first half of John’s gospel documents how not only the

pagan world, but even Israel, ‘his own,’ failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah and savior of the

world, rejecting the light, including all demonstrations of Jesus’ deity and messiahship.”40 Verse

11 highlights the irony and tragedy of “the world rejecting the one through whom it was made.”41

Verse 12 is probably the climactic statement of the whole prologue, and represents

“the very purpose for which the Gospel was written: for people to ‘believe’ and have life ‘in His

name’.”42 It is interesting that in verse 11 no one receives Jesus, but in verse 12, to those who

have received Him, He’s given a right: the right to become children of God, only through belief

and “to entrust oneself to Jesus, to acknowledge His claims and to confess Him.”43 The belief in

Jesus also requires a denial of self and full reliance on the revealed Word. Those to whom He

gave the right, were not so by nature but by authorization from the Logos. In verse 13 the

believer who identifies with Jesus as Messiah, is shown not be born of man, or the will of man,

but rather of God and by way of the will of God, “It is a work wholly of God’s operation,”44

(14)And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the

only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (15) John testified about Him and

cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank

than I, for He existed before me.’ (16)For of His fullness we have all received, and grace

upon grace. (17)For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized

39
Michaels, John, 65.
40
Kostenberger, 36.
41
Ibid, 36.
42
Ibid, 38.
43
Ibid, 38.
44
Murray, 13.

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through Jesus Christ. (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.

John now returns to the preexistent Word by way of inclusion. The main point in this

verse is not “ Jesus ‘changed into’ that is, by becoming human, He ceased to be God. Nor does it

mean ‘appeared’ human, or ‘took on humanity’. The main point is that God now has chosen to

be with His people in a more personal way than ever before.”45 “The author is not announcing a

mysterious transformation of the divine Word…but simply confirms verses 1-13, by making it

explicit that ‘the true Light’ who ‘came to what was his own’ was none other than ‘the Word’

introduced in verse 1…”46 “As John now makes clear, in Jesus, God’s glory has taken up

residence in the midst of his people once again. To bring glory to God is said to be Jesus’

overriding purpose in John’s Gospel.”47 This verse evokes a myriad of Old Testament illusions to

the temple, the Exodus and God again dwelling among His people. The fact that Jesus was now

radiating God’s glory among His people once again, would have proved monumental in showing

Jesus as the new temple where God’s glory will dwell. Ultimately Jesus will be fully glorified at

the cross.48 Jesus being full of “truth and grace refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to his people

Israel. According to John, this faithfulness found ultimate expression in God sending his one-of-

a-kind Son.”49

At this point John now turns the narrative towards John the Baptist and his witness of

Jesus. John affirms the claim of Jesus’ deity and his preexistence. John places himself at a lower

position than Jesus, not as a lower rank of status, but rather a lower rank of authority. John was

not the Messiah, as some had thought, but was the one crying out about the Messiah, one who
45
Kostenberger, 40.
46
Michaels, 76.
47
Kostenberger, 42.
48
Ibid, 42.
49
Ibid, 45.

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would come with much more authority and rank than John. Verse 16 are the things Jesus has

given us “The implication is that the Christian community has not only looked at the one ‘full of

grace and truth,’ but has ‘received’ from Him those very gifts.”50 John also affirms, “by

portraying Jesus’ coming in terms of the giving of ‘grace for grace’ the evangelist affirms that

the grace given through Moses was replaced by the grace bestowed through Christ.”51

Verse 17 reiterates the point of verse 16; the grace realized through Moses has now

been re-realized through Christ. “True grace, that is final, eschatological grace, came through

Jesus Christ… Jesus’ ministry is superior to that of Moses…”52 The law here is not annulled

because Jesus has come rather, “The point is not that the law failed because it could not provide

‘grace and truth,’ but it paved the way for the latter to come into being ‘through Jesus

Christ’.”53Just as Moses issued the law and was like a “first redeemer…issued in the gift of the

Law; this was ‘given’ not as a burden, but as a revelation of God’s will for his people…the

second redeemer occasioned a revelation of God and salvation brought about by ‘grace and

truth’.”54 Jesus has enacted a second Exodus, just as He has also enacted a new creation (1:1),

both are deeply rooted in grace and truth.

Verse 18 ends the prologue with explaining no has seen God at anytime, but the “one-

of-a-kind Son” has explained Him. John uses the uniqueness of the Son as a motif through out

the entire Gospel, as well as the light-darkness motif. The last verse highlights “an inclusion with

1:1. There it was said the Word was with God and the Word was God. Here in 1:18 it is similarly

said that the Son was God and that he was with God in the closest possible way.”55 Because no

50
Michaels, 88.
51
Kostenberger, 47.
52
Ibid, 47.
53
Michaels, 90.
54
Murray, 15.
55
Kostenberger, 48. Murray states that this is a direct reference to Moses, having see the theophany at
Sinai, Moses then requested to see God’s glory and it was denied (Murray, 15).

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one has seen God “hearing takes the place seeing.”56 Faith has taken ownership over what the

believer can comprehend here, more importantly faith in Jesus, the only begotten one from the

Father and the one who has explained Him “One has seen God, therefore God the one and

only…told about Him.”57 Jesus’ mission was to tell of the glory, grace, truth and salvation of the

Father. Through the resurrection and obedience to Him, Jesus did just that.

56
Michaels, 93.
57
Ibid, 92.

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