The Only Begotten Son (John 1:1-18)

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 not even one thing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3 NASB 1995).

In the beginning. It’s almost identical to Genesis, chapter one, verse one. “In the beginning” carries us into the depths of eternity, before time or creatures were. If you think of Genesis chapter one as the language of creation, then you might think of John chapter one as the language of the new creation or the re-creation, which will be a major theme in John’s gospel.

Was the Word.  The Greek word for Word is Logos. The Greeks had a concept of the logos, and so did the Hebrews. John’s background for the term was probably Hebrew, and specifically the Hebrew Old Testament. The idea is that the word—just words—think of it that way, are an expression of me. If I speak words, that means I exist. So, there’s already this concept of self-existence. And because I exist, I express myself. That’s the Word. So, forever God has existed; He expressed Himself in the Word, in the Logos. “Was the Word” therefore means the Word was already in existence from the beginning, from eternity. All the “was” in verse 1 are in the imperfect, durative tense in the Greek language and the literal translation of Greek to English is actually, “In the beginning the Word continually was, and the Word was continually with God, and the Word was continually God”.

The Word was with God. The Greek could be translated, “the Word was face to face with God”. There are two parts to this. One would be equality. It’s not saying the word was hanging out with God. Face to face means equal with God, but distinct from God. You don’t stand face to face with yourself. Hence, the meaning here is the Word  was with the Father, meaning Word is distinct from the Father, and not same as the Father. Also, the word was continually with God. There was no point in eternity past when the Father existed without His Son. 

The Word was God. Some false teachers say the word was “a” god, implying one god, among many. It’s helpful to understand: first of all, the Greek language has no indefinite article; it has no “a”. So that’s not what it says. It also has the definite article “the” but it’s not used here. The language is very careful, and it’s very precise. So, if John had said “the word was the God”, it would have meant the Word was the Father, but that’s not the point being made. The point being made is the Word was with God and was God. The Word is a divine person just like the Father. Hence, verse 1 may be paraphrased as, ‘The Word existed from all eternity, face to face with the Father who is a divine person, and the Word himself is a divine person equal in essence or nature or divinity of the Father’. Of course, the Word (Greek is Logos) is none other than the person who is called the “Son”.

He was with God in the beginning. This is a repetition of what was said in the first verse; but it is stated over again to “guard the doctrine,” and to prevent the possibility of a mistake. Emphasis here is the Word (Son) who was continually God was a person distinct from God the Father.

Through him all things were made. The Word was with God the Father in the beginning, but not as an idle, inefficacious existence. On the contrary, God the Word was the source of all activity and life. “All things were made through Him”. Notice what another inspired writer Paul says:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. And He [Son] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together(Colossians 1:15-17).”

All creatures, whether in heaven or on earth, the whole universe, and every being contained therein, you and me, animate or inanimate, intelligent or unintelligent. Everything came into being, or was created, through the Word. Here, right at the beginning of John, we see evidence of the God of the Bible composed of a person called the Father, and a person called the Word.

Without him nothing was made that has been made. Nothing that was made, neither the heavens nor the earth, neither things visible nor invisible, were made without God the Word.Nothing, absolutely nothing, was created or came into being without the Word. If Jesus caused all created things to come into existence, then He existed before all created things (angels, humans, etc.) came into existence. Therefore, the Word was not made or created. If Jesus created everything that has come into being, and Jesus also came into being (as some erroneously contend), then Jesus created Himself, which is absurd. He created all things. Hence, Jesus is the uncreated Creator. Jesus is eternal God. The only alternate “facts” available are found in the wishful thinking of those whose theology demands another reading. It’s clear from the text that Jesus is continually God.

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind. And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it (John 1:4-5)

In Him was life. It’s not saying He was alive; it is saying He is the origin of life. Wherever life is found anywhere in the universe, it has to have a start; it has to have an origin. And the origin ultimately is in God as the origin of life.

The life was the Light of mankind. In the ancient world, without all the artificial lighting that we take for granted, it was just dark. So life was lived in the light; it wasn’t lived in the darkness. This becomes like a metaphor. If you want to find life, life is going to be found in the light, and the light originates in God.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it. So, the Light shined into the darkness. Grasp it could be translated overpowers it. So what this is telling us is there’s going to be a cosmic war between light and darkness, but the darkness will not win. This theme gets unpacked further in the rest of John’s gospel.

A man came, one sent from God, and his name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

God even sends a prophet (John the Baptist) whose only responsibility was to announce that the Messiah has come in order that people might believe. This is John’s big message. This word believe is used ninety-three times in John’s gospel. “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). John wasn’t the Light. He came to announce the Light. Some scholars think the reason John put that in there is even by the time John wrote this gospel, there were still those who were followers of John the Baptist, and not yet believers in Jesus.

“This was the true Light that, coming into the world, enlightens every person” (John 1:9)

This was the true Light. Jesus is the true Light. He is the true God, one with the Father. 

Coming into the world, enlightens every person. True Light was there for those who choose to believe it. Very similar to Paul in Romans chapter one when he says that God has made Himself evident through creation, and because God is so evident in creation, no one can ever say they didn’t know there was a God.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, and yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not accept Him” (John 1:10-11)

So He entered into the world He created, but the people He created, His own possession, did not know Him.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12)

But as many as received Him to them. Again a key word for John, receive simply means to invite in. Think of the imagery of Jesus standing, knocking at the door. The door needs to be opened, and Jesus is invited in. That’s the word receive.

He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. Children, literally means born one’s of God. Again, if you think of Genesis one as creation, then think of the gospel of John as new creation, or re-creation—born again—which again is a theme that will be unpacked in John’s gospel. This idea of He gave the right—it’s not the power. That’s not really a good translation. He gave the right or the authority. People can tell you I’m a child of this and that. But that doesn’t make it so. What John is saying is there are people whom God has given the authority to call themselves God’s children. Who are those people? Those who believe—there’s John’s word—in His name. His name would be like the sum total of His person and work—everything that he is going to talk about in this gospel. Those who “believe” in His name, and  those who were?

“Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God (John 1:13)

Who were born [how?]. Not of blood meaning not nationality or ethnicity. The Jews thought they were children of God because they were Jews. He is saying, “No, it doesn’t work that way.” Nor of the will of the flesh meaning not human effort, not by religious activity, not by good works, not by good performance—it doesn’t have anything to do with that. Nor of the will of man meaning man there is male, so it’s referring to a husband. A husband wants offspring; a man wants offspring. He gets married and has offspring with his wife. John is saying, “No, it’s not like that either.” Then how does it happen? but of God. And John will unpack that later in the gospel.

“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.” (John 1:14) 

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory. I’m sorry, what? The eternal Creator of the universe, a God so powerful He spoke the universe into place, took on human flesh and became a man? The first big thing John is asking you to believe— and he will make his case through the gospel—is that the God of the universe, at a point in time, actually entered into human history and became a man. Literally the word dwelt is pitched a tent, could be translated tabernacled among us. It’s a reminder of all these old covenant pictures reminding us of the promise of a Messiah.

The only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. You have heard the word used when reading those long genealogies in the Bible: so-and-so begat so-and-so.John applies this language to Jesus as well, referring to Him as the only begotten Son of God.  There is a strong case to interpret this Greek word “monogenes” as “unique, one of a kind”, which is the meaning found in Hebrews 11:17 when the writer refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only begotten son”(KJV). Abraham had more than one son, but Isaac was the only son he had by Sarah and the only son of promise.However, begotten sonship could also mean one is generated by a father. Then the question is “when” was the Son begotten? The answer is there is no “when.” Why? Because John has already told us that Jesus was continually with the Father, and Jesus was continually God (John 1:1-3). Unlike human generation, the Son’s generation then has to be eternal, timeless, continual. We are told Messiah’s “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”’ (Micah 5:2 KJV), just like God’s “throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting (Psalms 93:2). There never was a time when the Son was not, nor ever a time when the Son was not from the Father. If the Son’s generation did fall within time (not timeless), then not only is there a time when the Son was not, but there is a time when the Father was not Father. IfHe is Son because He is from the Father, then His sonship must be as eternal as the Father Himself. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” (John 14:10). Then the Son only begotten “from the Father” means He is not generated after the Father, which would make Him less than the Father, but the Son is generated from the Father timelessly. As Jesus Himself says, He is the truth (John 14:6). Was there ever a time when God the Father was without His Truth? The Arians of the fourth century said yes, and some say the same thing today. For if the Son was not before His generation, Truth was not always in God. Hence, the Son is begotten of the Father not by will, but by Father’s inherent nature, so that the Son is a subsistence of that one divine nature, not the production of another, second nature. The Son’s existence did not take its beginning out of nothing, but went forth from the Eternal. It is appropriate to still call it a birth (that is the meaning of begetting), but it would be false to call it a beginning. Unlike human generation which is physical and material, the divine nature, however, is spiritual and therefore indivisible. God is spirit (John 4:24), so He remains one, simple, and undivided. This can explain how God is one (Deu 6:4), or one being or one essence, but within this single indivisible divine nature exist more than one consciousness or person.1

Let’s summarize. In these verses right at the beginning of John’s gospel, we should recognize a number of interesting concepts, events, and words that are parallel with the first chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 1John 1
In the beginning God.In the beginning was the Word.
God created the whole world.All things came into being through the Word
God created all life.In Him was life.
Let there be light.His life is the light of the world.
The darkness he called night.The darkness did not comprehend it.

 So not only the Father is called God, but the Son is called God. Hence, the phrase God is bigger than just the Son or the Father, because the word God includes the divine person of the Father and the divine person of the Son. Moreover, Father is unbegotten, but the Son is begotten (not created or made). Because the Father has begotten the Son, the Father is not the Son. Because the Son is begotten by the Father, the Son is not the Father. Similarly, because the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 15:26), the Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son.

3 thoughts on “The Only Begotten Son (John 1:1-18)

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