In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Translation: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. This (Word) was in the beginning with God. All came into being through him, and apart from him nothing happened in that which begins. In him was life and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
It happened, a man named John sent from alongside God. This man came to witness in order that he might witness concerning the light so that all might trust through him. He was not that light, but in order that he might witness concerning the light. The true light which enlightens all humanity was coming into the universe. He was in the universe, and the universe became through him, but the universe did not perceive him. He came into his own, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, he gave them power to become children of God, the ones trusting into his name, who were born not of bloodshed nor out of flesh-will, nor out of man-will, but out of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived in us and we have beheld his glory, glory as only-born from alongside the Father, full of grace and truth. John witnessed about him and he cried out, saying, "This is he whom I said the one coming after me happened before me because he was first of me." For out of his plentitude we all have received, grace against grace, for the law through Moses was given, the grace and the truth came to be through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, only-begotten God, the one into the bosom of the father, he has translated.
Background and situation: The text reverberates with well-known Johannine themes--Word (logos), light, life, witness--and also some that are less well-known, such as "cosmos," "faithing," "all humanity," and the Greek word ginomai, in its various forms, a word whose fundamental meaning is "to bring into being," and which can be legitimately translated in a variety of ways.
This is not surprising, of course, considering that the fourth gospel has many affinities with the book of Genesis and the original story of creation. (For a detailed sketch of John 1 compared with Genesis 1, see here.)
One of the more obvious of these is the opener: "In the beginning." In the beginning, the Word--logos--was fully equal with God. In fact, the creation itself came into being through the Word. This is indeed the highest of high Christologies, and the basis for much of the trinitarian theology which would later be formulated in the third and fourth centuries.
Compare the various New Testament writers on this question: When and how was Jesus the Son of God? Paul, the earliest New Testament writer, seems not terribly interested in this question, but sometimes gives the impression that it was in his resurrection that Jesus became Son of God. Mark, writing about twenty years after Paul, seems to say that Jesus became Son of God at his baptism. Matthew and Luke, writing about ten to fifteen years after Mark, roll this back to the birth of Jesus.
Just after Matthew and Luke, the later Pauline writings--Ephesians, Colossians--accent the cosmic sweep of God's work in Christ, just as does the fourth gospel. The fourth gospel goes them one better though. Where, for Colossians, Christ the "first-born of all creation," he is not born at all in the fourth gospel. The Word was always with God even before creation began.
The logos: "In the beginning was the logos." Logos varies in meaning depending on what period in history it is being used. The original meaning of the word was "to gather." It later came to refer to human reason.
By the time of Jesus, logos had come to mean the creative power of God and the kingship of God over all things. Philo, a first century philosopher, saw logos as flowing from God himself, and as the mechanism through which God created the universe.
Logos translates the Hebrew dabar, a word which also has a rich wealth of meaning, but most commonly refers to God's self-communication, or the relating of God, who is unseen, to the created world. Logos combines the concepts of thought, deed, and power. For the author of the fourth gospel, logos is an expression of God's innermost nature which is present in the world.
After relating the creation of the world, the fourth gospel asserts: "In him was life and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." Life, light, and humanity all appear at once. Then, the "darkness" is acknowledged, though not defined, yet, no matter what, it cannot "overcome" or "over-power" the light. Nor, it should be said, does the light "over-power" the darkness either. The darkness cannot "win," but the victory of the light is yet to be established.
Witness: It might seem surprising that the figure of John makes an appearance so early in the fourth gospel. He is identified as "sent" by God. Interesting: The verb form--apestalmenos, "sent"--is used frequently in the fourth gospel, but the noun form--"apostle"--is never used. For the fourth gospel, the gospel is not a static thing, but something that is being done. Moreover, John is sent para God--from alongside of God. This is high praise indeed.
John's purpose is to "witness" to the light, a strong theme in the fourth gospel. The author quickly asserts that John is not the light himself, lest anyone get any ideas. (The community around John the Baptist continued even after his death and was likely still around at the time of the writing of the fourth gospel.) The fourth gospel is clear that John witnesses to Christ. He is sent from God, yes, but for the purpose of pointing to Christ.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world--a striking statement of universality, especially considering that the "cosmos" (mentioned four times in two verses) was created through the this light, but that very "cosmos" also rejected the light. Even "his own" did not "receive" him.
How children of God are made: For those who did "receive" him, however, "he gave them power--exousian--to become children of God." Becoming "children of God" is all about "trusting into his name"--a name which, as yet, we do not know! (The word translated as "believe" is pisteuein. Unfortunately, "believe" is not quite the meaning of pisteuein, which really means "radical trust," an orientation of one's entire self, and not just the intellect as the word "believe" would imply.)
The status of "children of God" has completely to do with trust, and is certainly "not of bloods." The word aimaton is actually in its plural form, and, according to Wes Howard-Brook, the word is a Hebrew idiom for "bloodshed" or violence. Children of God do not attain their status through war.
Nor are children of God born out of "flesh-will"--not, in other words, through the established ways of the world. Wes Howard-Brook again: "('Flesh-will') is the manner of behavior that is focused on superficial satisfaction, the culturally acceptable, the easy and comfortable."
Nor are children of God formed "out of man-will." The fourth gospel has heretofore used the broadly inclusive word anthropos to refer to human beings in general. Here, the author picks a word that specifically relates to men, andros. One of the primary characteristics of the Johannine community was egalitarianism and gender equality. This will become more and more clear as the gospel unfolds. Male headship does not create children of God. Only God does.
Word become flesh: Then comes the famous line: "And the Word became flesh." God's self-expression enters into actual human flesh. This is yet another instance of the word ginomai. (I count ten uses in eighteen verses.) The word has to do with creation, origin, "happening." Here, you might say, the source of all being enters into the realm of becoming. The essential enters into the existential.
The Word "dwelt" or "tented" with us. This recalls the days of ancient Israel when YHWH "tented" with his people. This dwelling, or "tenting," is "in us"--en hamin. No, this is nothing about Jesus "living in your heart." It's about the mutual indwelling between Christ and his followers, a resounding theme all through the fourth gospel. Not only does Christ indwell his followers, but he indwells God. Likewise, God indwells Christ, and Christ's followers indwell him.
The text is not, in other words, about individual salvation. There is none of that here. The fourth gospel is all about the community indwelling with each other and with God. It is not about the individual's appropriation of Jesus, but rather God's appropriation of humanity through Christ and how God lives in the greatest intimacy with his followers. All through the gospel the words are plural, not singular.
The word "glory" is introduced and then emphasized--"glory as only-born (monogenous) from alongside (para) the Father." This Word is "full of grace and truth." The Greek words here translate the Hebrew chesed v'emet, i.e. "lovingkindness." (Jose Miranda)
John makes another appearance, asserting yet again the pre-eminence of Christ over himself, and, following that, fullness and grace words resound again. It seems that whenever John speaks, his words are preceded and followed by words like light, life, grace, and glory. Charis--"grace"--appears three times.
The fourth gospel then asserts that, yes, the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. For the first time, the name of Christ is mentioned, as if the entire prologue were oriented toward this climactic moment. This is the name in whom his followers trust: "Jesus Christ."
"No one has ever seen God"--not Moses, in other words--but the "only-son"--monogenous again--who is from the very bosom of God has "translated" God to us. The word is exegesato, from where we get our word "exegesis." It does not mean "interpretation" so much, but rather "translation," the transformation of thought into another language--in this case, the "translation," and the articulation, of God into "flesh."