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The standard reading of John 1:1

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

is that the beginning - ἀρχῇ (archē) - refers to the old beginning, i.e., the beginning described in Genesis 1.

What are the main arguments in favour of the beginning at John 1:1 referring to the old beginning instead of the new beginning (i.e., the beginning of Jesus' (human) life or ministry)?

This question is a mirror of this question.

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  • What was the first creative act by God?
    – Kris
    Aug 8, 2022 at 23:10
  • John COULD have said "In eternity, the Word was with God, and the Word was God," but he did not. John did, however, elucidate John 1:1 later in his Gospel in chapter 8: “You are not yet fifty years old,” [the Jews] said to [Jesus], “and you have seen Abraham!” “'Very truly I tell you,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am!' At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds." Why did the Jews react so violently to Jesus' words? Because Jesus was claiming eternality AND echoing God's words to Moses: “I am who I am" (Ex 3:14). Aug 9, 2022 at 13:28
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    @rhetorician Thanks for these comments - points certainly worth considering. I would add that John 8:58's grammar is ambiguous - it could even mean Abraham was coming to be in the future (!). Also, the 'I am' of Exodus 3:14 isn't 'ego eimi' in the Septuagint, it's ho on. It also doesn't work in the Hebrew. They could have been P.O.ed because he was claiming to be more important than Abraham, whom they revered (while he, on the other hand, had just called them liars, murderers, and sons of the Devil). So it's not clear to me John is elucidating 1:1 at 8:58, but this is the right tack IMO. Aug 9, 2022 at 16:34

1 Answer 1

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First, there are no (good) arguments against it. John 1:1 is radically different than the start of the other Gospels, so "consistency" claims already fall flat. The argument that v6 must not represent a jump ahead in time is dodgy at best, as v6 is clearly starting a new thought. The later date of John's authorship also suggests that John may have been writing in response to early attempts to deny Christ's divinity, which is firmly established in many places¹.

Second, such an interpretation makes v3 inconsistent with the rest of scripture, and also... odd. Jesus is the Creator of... what, exactly (according to an interpretation that "beginning" here is something other than The Beginning)?

Compare:

Hebrews 1:2
[God] has spoken to us by his Son [...] through whom also he created the world
1 Corinthians 6:8b
[there is] one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Colossians 1:16
For by [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through Him and for Him.
Psalm 33:6a
By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made

Note that the greater context of Colossians 1 makes it clear that Paul is referring to Christ.

Thus, we have several passages, even in the Old Testament (when we consider John showing us that Christ is the Word; 1:1 and 1:14) that attest to all of Creation being accomplished through Christ. Why, then, would we think that John 1:3 is not meant to be consistent with these other passages? (Moreover, the passages in the Epistles that Christ specifically deny any notion that "the Word" is not Christ. Christ — the same Christ who became man, was crucified, and was raised — preexisted Creation, which is only possible if the man Christ is both man and God.)

There are additional passages that speak to Christ's preexistence; for example:

John 17:5
[Jesus said,] "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed"
John 1:15
John bore witness about [The Word which became flesh], and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'"
John 8:58
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am."

While these don't necessarily argue against the "beginning" in John 1 being later, they certainly support that a reading of John 1 as referring to The Beginning is valid. In fact, this is true even if one denies that the Logos of John 1:1 is the person of Christ, because numerous Scriptures speak of some sort of preexistence of something, and any alternate interpretation of those passages would also work with John 1:1.

Now, one argument is that John 1:1 and 1 John 1:1 are inconsistent. But as in the preceding paragraph, if we take John 1 as indicating that Christ has existed since the Beginning of Creation, then there is no trouble at all applying this same meaning to 1 John 1.

Perhaps most compelling, however, is when we consider how John's original audience would have read his Gospel. That original audience wouldn't be reading out of a collected volume where John is sandwiched between Luke and Acts. They would have been reading John's Gospel by itself. In that context, the most natural reading is either that vv1-4 are referring to an absolute beginning, giving context to a narrative that does indeed skip ahead at v5, or that v1 is a deliberate reference to Genesis 1:1. Of course, both possibilities result in the same interpretation. There's simply no context to imply otherwise, which is not the case in Mark (1:1: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ) or Luke (1:2's "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses" correlates with the earlier part of the sentence in 1:1, "the things that have been accomplished among us"). Frankly, an interpretation as other than The Beginning is eisegetical; it's reading something into the text that simply isn't there.

Therefore, I conclude that any interpretation of "beginning" in John 1:1 as other than The Beginning is of no notable benefit, and is detrimental to theological consistency. Since there is no other overt reason to prefer one reading over the other, I am far inclined to side with the reading which is most theologically beneficial and is that accepted by the majority of Christians.


¹ Yes, yes, not everyone agrees with this assertion. Personally, however, I've always found pro-Trinitarian arguments to be straight-forward and for the most part "obvious" and refutations of anti-Trinitarian arguments easily made. Whereas I find the case against Trinitarianism feels like it's having to work to distort the meaning of Scripture. Anyway, that's your disclaimer that this answer is written from a pro-Trinitarian perspective. Plenty of words have been written on the subject elsewhere that I don't need to rehash here.

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  • Doesn't the same issue with John 1:3 apply to Col 1? 'All' is ambiguous, especially given St. Paul's list (thrones, dominions, and so on). Compare Ephesians 1, which is similar but more explicitly all about the new beginning. Aug 8, 2022 at 18:04
  • Worth noting John 1:15 and John 8:58 are grammatically ambiguous. 8:58 is so ambiguous it could even be talking about Abraham's future coming to be! Aug 8, 2022 at 18:06
  • Important to note ancient Jewish belief that the name of the Messiah (Christ) existed before the foundation of the earth. Cf. the Babylonion Talmud. This is an obvious possible target of John 17:5. Aug 8, 2022 at 18:07
  • "Whereas I find the case against Trinitarianism feels like it's having to work to distort the meaning of Scripture." You mean like having to distort phrases like 'the Father is greater than I', the only true God is the Father, 'I am a man who has heard things from God', 'Jesus of Nazareth is a man who was certified by God', 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God' and so on, and so on? I don't like popping up proof-texts like this, but you're really preaching to the choir here I think. ;) Aug 8, 2022 at 18:09
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    @OneGodtheFather Heb 1:2 isn't questionable - it's plain wrong, some even have universe! Another good example of T's using such verses to proclaim their truth using wrong translations. No wonder the author doesn't make sense of claims against T, when the evidence used by T's is non-existent or fabricated. T's might as well quote the Message bible!
    – steveowen
    Aug 8, 2022 at 22:18

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