John 1, 1-5. 9-14
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 to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. And the Word became flesh 9 and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (cf. verse 1)
The prologue of the Gospel of John is something quite powerful and contains a deep theology. That is why it is worth taking a closer look at it - even if it may not always be easy.
The first three statements of the prologue describe the eternal divine being of the Logos. The phrase "In the beginning was the Word" is to be understood as a reference to the beginning of the Old Testament in Gen 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The Logos of whom John writes here is Christ. He is the Word through whom God created all things, as it then says in verse 3: "All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be."
However, this Logos transcends God's speaking on the morning of creation, for the Word became flesh in the historical hour: Jesus Christ Himself is this Word, whose existence was already present in the prehistory of the world, that is, in divine eternity. So even though the word "beginning" is used in both cases, there is a decisive difference: here in the Gospel, it is not about a beginning of existence of the created world in creation, but about the pre-existence of the Logos before all creation. What already existed in the beginning has a primacy over all creation, as Paul also expresses it.
The Logos was not created, but "he was", i.e., he already existed absolutely, timelessly and eternally at creation. That is why Jesus can also say in Jn 8:58: " before Abraham came to be, I AM." This "I am" expresses the timeless presence of Jesus. He has always been, from eternity, and not created. So, the word "in the beginning was the Word" here denotes nothing other than the eternal, infinite Being. John emphasises in praise of the incarnate Christ that without the body of flesh he already existed in the beginning, that is, before creation. He did not become, but was with God from eternity, just as one person is with another person. And he was God.
By looking back to the beginning of creation ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"), John shows the eternal-divine origin of the Saviour and Revelator who was with the Father and comes from there: "Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world was!" (Jn 17:5) And only out of this knowledge of His eternity, out of direct knowledge, can He bring us a fully valid revelatory testimony. If Jesus, the Word, had not been with the Father from eternity, he could not, because he would not know the Father fully. That is why these short and concise sentences of John's Gospel are very important. This prehistory also reveals in its origin the nature of Jesus Christ. In his nature we recognise at the same time the authority of this earthly Christ.
That is why the second statement "the Word was with God" also speaks immediately of the personal communion of the Logos with the Father, for it says: "and the Logos was with God." This refers to the close union with the Father - in thought as well as in will and action. Jesus, the Son of God, then reveals this complete oneness with the Father again and again in his life: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me." (Jn 4:34) In the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus speaks of the glory he had with the Father before the world was. This glory lies precisely in the closeness to God, that is, in the communion of life with Him, which was given to him out of the Father's love.
In the prologue of the Gospel of John, the eternal being of the Logos is expressed. Here the deity of Jesus, which is still doubted and attacked again and again today, is clearly expressed. But the Logos, who participates in the glory of the Father, in the life of God, is the basic prerequisite for the whole Good News.
The phrase "the Word was with God" says much more than comparable phrases, such as in the book of Proverbs: "The wisdom that was present at the creation..." This is something different from the Logos, who was really there before creation, and in personal communion with God, thus living in God and from God. So, it is not only an active partnership - something is done with this God - but it is a personal bond, so that this togetherness - he was with God - can also be expressed within each other. The "with God" is to be understood from our perspective, from the perspective of the world. "The Father is in me and I in him," expresses the close communion of the Logos with the Father, who is grounded in pre-worldly existence and truly exists wholly with the Father from eternity. In John 1:18, St. John brings both together with the words, "who rests at the heart of the Father."
Now the climax is represented by the third part of the first verse: "And the Word was God." Translated quite literally, it says: "And God was the Logos." Here John ascribes being God itself to the Logos. "And God was the Logos." This "theos" (God) which precedes this sentence in the Greek does not replace the Logos, the previously mentioned "ho theos". This refers to the Father. So, it is not simply replacing the Father with the Son, but now it is about the nature of God. God was the Logos. The Logos is rather just as much God as the Father, with whom he is in communion of life. They are two persons, but one being. Thus, the word "theos" denotes the fact that the Logos and the Father have a common being. This fullness of the divine being is the basic prerequisite and guarantee that Jesus is just as much God as the Father and therefore has the full power of revelation and salvation. This statement is related to the activity of the Logos in the world, namely to his function of life and light for human beings - he is "the light of men" (Jn 1:4b) - but also to his communication of grace after the Incarnation.
"He was in the beginning with God." (cf. verse 2)
After the preceding statement about the nature of the Logos, John once again takes up the previous sentence: The Logos was in the beginning with God. In this way he expresses the starting point of Jesus' path of salvation. He was with the Father and went forth from the Father to return to the Father, as it says elsewhere. His origin is with God before all time. This determines his nature, his dignity and his authority.
"All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be." (cf. verse 3)
John now takes the next step. The Logos, Christ, is involved in creation. How he is involved is not described, but only the fact itself is reported. All things came to be through him, and without him not one thing came to be that has come to be. This makes it clear that in the entire creation, the spiritual as well as the material world, absolutely nothing has come into being past the Word, without the Word, that is, without Christ.
The first two words "has become", which are about creation, are in the aorist tense, expressing that it is a unique becoming. The creation and the becoming of man were each an act of creation. Something unique can be determined precisely from its origin. But the third time ("and without the Word nothing became that has become", i.e., what has already been created), the perfect is now written, i.e., forever. Through the Word, therefore, something unique is first created, but everything that is permanently created has become through the Word. All areas of spiritual as well as material creation owe their becoming to the Logos.
The first three verses are not yet about man, but about the whole of creation. Thus, the statement "without him neither became one" emphasises a comprehensive significance of the Logos in creation. Just as the Logos assumes the unique role of revealer and life-giver for redemption, nothing comes into existence without him in creation. It is through Christ that both all redemption and all creation take place. John makes it clear that the Logos is not a mere expression for the creative power of God, i.e., only an aspect of his creative power, but a person. These statements about the Logos want to show and praise the unique greatness of the Word of God made flesh. John anticipates this before he says in verse 14: "And the Word became flesh", so that we know who became flesh in the first place: the Christ, without whom there is no salvation and through whom everything, every single thing, became.
"Through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race" (cf. verse 4)
Now it is about the relationship of the Logos to the human world. Verse 9 then says: "The true light that enlightens every man came into the world." This emphasises the significance of the Logos even more. Jesus is this true light that enlightens every human being. After all, in John 8:12 Jesus says, "Whoever follows me will have the light of life." So it is about life that becomes light and light that is a power of life. The words "life" and "light" thus symbolise the fullness of a meaningful, transparent and light-filled life.
To understand this work of the Logos on human beings as light, we can also look to the Psalms or to the patient Job. There, "light of life" means that man enjoys the light of the sun. But since this life is given by God and lived in the face of God, it takes on a much deeper meaning than, for example, in Ps 27:1: "The LORD is my light and my salvation: of whom shall, I fear? The LORD is the refuge of my life: of whom shall I fear?", in Ps 36:10: "With thee is the fountain of life. For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light we behold the light." or in Wis 7:26: "Wisdom is the reflection of the eternal light, the unclouded mirror of God's power, the image of his perfection." While here wisdom is referred to as the reflection of eternal light, in Wis 7:10 the light of wisdom is preferred even to created light: "I preferred her possession to light; for never does her brightness go out that shines from her."
Two thoughts are important here: firstly, the newly creating and life-giving power of wisdom, and secondly, its working in souls from generation to generation. One could say: this is the meaning of life. A person who does not accept Christ and lives egoistically or atheistically misses the meaning of his life. He does not know where he comes from and where he is going. For him, everything is chance. What is the point of all his doing except to enjoy briefly and then die? There is no light and no meaning, nothing to satisfy man's innermost longing for the infinite and for eternity. But the fulfilment of this innermost longing of man is the life that the Logos gives. He himself is the life and the light of man. He is to fill human beings with his essential spiritual-divine life. This is what distinguishes human beings from the rest of creation, from animals and inorganic creation.
This life consists, first of all, in the knowledge of the God-related nature, the image of God. The Logos is life for us. He gives us the true life that enlightens every human being. And this life consists secondly in the blessedness of God-connectedness, which is in us when we are completely connected with Christ and thus with God. Then we can still be happy even in suffering and experience deepest happiness even in dying, like the martyrs, for example. They were given this blessedness of being united with God. Thirdly, this life means the holiness of change. In the Logos was that divine power of life in all its fullness. In Christ, all this fullness of life and light is as in an inexhaustible fountain fed from the depths of the divine stream of life. John 5:26 expresses something similar: "For as the Father hath life in himself, even so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." To the Logos falls the task of communicating this life to men. He has the whole fullness of life. He is the inexhaustible fountain of this divine stream of life and he is to communicate this stream of life to us. He becomes the source of life for people and the giver of divine light, through communion with Christ, through prayer, through the sacraments, etc. Christ has assumed the salvific function for human beings since creation and wanted to carry it out for all generations. He became man to redeem us and to communicate this fullness of salvation to us.
Verse 4 looks, as it were, at the morning of creation and describes the order of creation in which this task falls to the Logos, Christ. This is then expressed again in verse 9 by the present tense: "the true light that enlightens every man." This phrase is in the present tense. He is the true light that enlightens. Just as in him was divine, eternal life without temporal limitation, so also in the plan of God he has always and forever been the light of men. This Logos is a divine person who became man in Jesus Christ in order to fulfil his task on people who have fallen into sin and darkness.
When we sense these connections in their depth, when we sense who this Christ really is, then we realise who has become man and visible to us, who has totally humbled himself for us: What the Logos was supposed to be for human beings according to the plan of creation, he actually became in his historical mission for believers, that is, at his incarnation. Verse 4 gains even greater clarity through Jesus' self-revelation in John. In John's Gospel, Jesus calls himself "the light of the world" and gives the possibility of gaining this light of life. Thus, in this word of light, we can also hear the final salvation that he gives. This light efficacy of the Logos reaches from creation to the Incarnation to the final consummation. From the beginning, it actually aims to bring man home into the light of God. He is the light that enlightens every human being. What is meant is the grace of redemption, of salvation, of divine life. Everything that is necessary for this: revelation, the giving of life, but also the expulsion of the darkness of sin and guilt, the moral overcoming of evil works and desires, all this belongs to the light that the Logos spreads.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (cf. verse 5)
In this verse John suddenly uses the present tense. The light shines. It shines in the darkness - even today. And then comes the past tense, the aorist: The darkness did not seize it, i.e., that at the historical coming of the Logos, at his incarnation, the darkness did not seize the light. It did not seize the unique opportunity.
For John, darkness is first of all the world that is far from God. But it is also an image of the sinister power that makes people themselves become darkened, blinded, as is indicated in John 9:39: "Then said Jesus, to judge I am come into this world; that the blind might see, and the seeing blind." So, this verse 5 is about this blinded world of men that has fallen into evil. It is synonymous with the children of darkness. In 1 John 3:10 Jesus even speaks of the children of the devil: "By this you can know the children of God and the children of the devil: Everyone who does not do righteousness and does not love his brother is not of God." This statement also means that man is required to make an active decision of his own, namely faith. But this decision was not made at that time. Let us think of the whole environment of Jesus. They did not take hold when the light was within their reach. So, John has very consciously chosen and contrasted the present tense and the past tense here. He knows about the never diminishing luminosity of the Logos. The light shines in the darkness until today. Its luminosity continues. But he also knows about the lack of understanding and the rejection of people who have closed their minds to this salvation-creating work. He has the appearance of Christ before his eyes, that is, what he himself experienced with Jesus: the rejection of Jesus by people and by the world.
The event at that time was a one-time occurrence at a specific point in time. That is what the aorist tense expresses in Greek. But it is also the unique and the moment of each person through time. Jesus was not only rejected at that time, but he is rejected again and again by people. The behaviour of people at that time thus becomes a warning for us today, so that we do not block ourselves against the salvific revelation of Christ. It is therefore a word of exhortation. The light of the Logos, which continues to shine, wants to be grasped by us, through faith, which makes us children of God, as it then says in verse 12, and through active love, which allows the light to penetrate further into the dark world: "And yet I write to you a new commandment, something realised in him and in you; for the darkness is passing away, and already the true light is shining." (1 John 2:8)
"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." (cf. verse 9)
After looking at John the Baptist in verses 6-8, which today's Gospel skips over, John comes back to the Logos. He was the real light that enlightens every person who comes into this world. Here, then, the statement of the light of men is once again emphasised. The illuminating ability of the Logos is universal and necessary for people of all times, not only for then. In the Logos alone was divine life-power for the true, the real fully human being of man. He alone was the real divine light for every human being. He was it. But what he was, he is and remains.
In verse 4, this "he was" still referred to the order of creation, that is, to the Logos before his incarnation: "In him was life." Now, however, the illumination of the Logos refers to the recognition and election of the good, to the true light that enlightens every human being so that he recognises and elects the good. Further, it refers to the destiny of man and to his acting according to the will of God, to his walking in the light, which then leads in the end to the full light and to the full salvation of God. In this sense, the Logos was "the real light" as opposed to a false light.
Moreover, this "real light" wants to express the reality and fullness of being of God. The Logos possesses an incomparable luminosity stemming from his divinity, which can and must prove itself in every human being who wants to find his goal. He thus also stands in contrast to all other supposed bringers of light.
"He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him." (cf. verse 10)
In view of this verse 10, the expression "came into the world" from verse 9 should actually not refer to man, but to the light. The light came into the world. So, the evangelist is referring here to the event of the Incarnation. He then says how the light came into the world in verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." The Logos became flesh.
He was in the world, that is, in the habitat of men, near and accessible to men, so that they could cling to him for their salvation. But the world - meaning now this earthly-historical space in which all humanity moves - did not recognise him. That is the shattering statement of this verse.
"He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him." (cf. verse 11)
Here, once again, the relationship of the Logos to human beings is described, the sad rupture that this relationship of the Logos to human beings’ experiences in this world. They do not receive him.
The use of the word "world" indicates that the transition from the order of creation to history is being described. History is a natural process of becoming. We are in the course of history. We are making history. It is essentially human history and it is about the actions and behaviour of human beings for their salvation or disaster in history. Emphasis is placed here on the dark fact that the world did not recognise Him and later even that His own did not receive Him. The world thus willingly closed itself off to the Logos who wanted to enlighten it and lead it to salvation, and with Him rejected God Himself. This non-recognition is an unholy behaviour by which people separate themselves from God and exclude themselves from His sphere of life. One could also say: the world did not recognise him.
The painful fact that the Logos met with rejection in the world is expressed even more sharply, almost paradoxically, in this verse 11: He came into his own, but his own, those who belonged to him, did not receive him. It is about the spiritual coming of the Logos into this darkened human world, which, as it were, closed its house to the Logos who was approaching. Here again, the past tense of the aorist "he came into his own" expresses that the encounter between Logos and world took place in historical reality and is renewed again and again, i.e., he came into the world at a very specific historical moment and was rejected in this one historical moment. But this historical moment takes place again and again in the life of every human being. He comes into his own - also to me! - and I do not accept him. This happens again and again. In this verse, the world is called "the property of the Logos" because it belongs to him through creation, for everything has become through him. It is all the more depressing that his own, who became through him in the first place, did not receive him. When we speak here of his own, we mean the closest relatives, those who are most closely connected with Christ, because they became through him and can only exist in him. But even they do not receive him. They thus practically reject their own basis of existence. They reject everything that Christ wants to give us: the light, the meaning, the fullness and the joy, i.e., ultimately the fulfilment of their lives.
Therefore, we must not be surprised when we look into our world today how many dissatisfied and unhappy people there are, all of whom are only hurrying and running to get hold of anything that will bring them a little light and happiness. Christ is the fullness. He has made all His own, who have received Him, happy. This is proven by the testimonies of people, even in the paradox of martyrdom: joy in the midst of suffering. This is only possible if Jesus Christ is truly the fullness of our life.
"But to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God." (cf. verse 12-13)
The depressing fact that the Logos met with incomprehension and rejection from people when he came into the world is now contrasted by John with people who accepted him. He gave them power to become children of God. For John, sonship with God is a divine gift that is given to the baptised through divine love. From this, of course, arises the moral task of then also proving themselves as children of God, as John writes in his letters.
The phrase "he gave power to become children of God" does not actually refer to moral development, but to the supernatural process of becoming in baptism. Through and in baptism I became a child of God. Verse 13 then clearly expresses that we are not born of the will of the flesh or of man, but of God. John does not actually say: Become what you are! but: Be and show who you have become through baptism! The giving of witness to this sonship with God is in the foreground.
John speaks of the acceptance of the Logos in faith. Faith is the basic attitude necessary for receiving salvation. Believing in the name of Jesus should mean believing in and affirming the person of Jesus to the full extent of his revelations. By name is meant the whole person, his whole mission, his whole proclamation, his whole revelation.
John makes it very clear in these two verses that one does not become a child of God by natural birth, nor by a natural process of becoming, but by a supernatural event brought about by God alone. The threefold negation "who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (cf. verse 12-13) expresses this quite clearly. The evangelist thus points to an unavailable and ultimately incomprehensible work of the divine Spirit through which this generation of God has taken place. In baptism, God was begotten in us. Through the Spirit we have become children of God. John emphasises the supernatural origin of the children of God in order to clarify their separateness from the world and their connectedness with the Logos, the mediator of divine grace and truth. The procreation from God in baptism remains a mystery and is a unique act of divine heavenly origin. Therefore, the past tense of the aorist is again used: "Who are born of God.
"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." (cf. verse 14)
With this last verse we come to the climax of today's Gospel. Even though he met with rejection from the people, the Logos was already present and effective in the world in a spiritual way, because everything is created through him and everything endures in him. But now the inconceivable happens: He even comes in the flesh. He becomes man and sets up his tent among men. And it is only through this incarnation that the Logos made us capable of sharing in the sonship of God. "Out of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." (Jn 1:16)
With the word "egeneto" (εγενετο - "he became", "the Word became flesh"), a change in the Logos' mode of being is indicated. He became something that he was not before. Before, he was in the glory of the Father. Now he assumes the lowliness of human existence. Before he was with God. Now he pitches his tent among men, and in human form, that is, in the full reality of the flesh, so that when he returns to his Father, he may regain the glory of the heavenly mode of being, as it is then said in John 17:5: "Father, glorify thou me now with thee with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." God restores to him the glory that he had with the Father before the world was. The Logos becoming flesh marks a turning point in the history of salvation. It opens up the last possibilities of salvation for human beings. The path of the Saviour down into the flesh and up through the flesh to heavenly glory also becomes a path for all who join him in faith.
But why does John use the word "flesh" here and not, for example, the word "man"? e.g., the word "man"? The Greek word "sarks" expresses the full humanity of Jesus. He was fully human. It could be that John was already thinking of the bread speech in Capernaum, where Jesus proclaims to his listeners: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:54). Possibly it could also be an expression that the Logos did not take on an illusory body, but really flesh and blood. "He pitched a tent among us", as it is then literally translated, thus expresses the reality of the Incarnation, but it also indicates that it is only a temporary dwelling, for a tent is taken down again.
Then John speaks of the "glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth". What is meant is the unique glory as it belongs to the Son of God, the glory of the only begotten of the Father. One could also translate: The glory of the only begotten Son of God. The Logos carries the fullness of the gifts of grace for all believers. So, this ("charitos kai alepheias" - χαριτοσ και αληθεια) "full of grace and truth" certainly also refers to the Logos. This probably comes from the Hebrew. There, this list has been very common since the appearance of God in the burning bush: "heset va ehmet" - "grace and truth", "mercy and compassion". So, in Christ, the Logos, we encounter grace and truth, grace and mercy, mercy and faithfulness - these are all expressions for this light that illuminates our existence. Perhaps John is also thinking of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor when he speaks of the "glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth".
It has become clear that this prologue of John's Gospel is incredibly important theologically. But when we come to grips with it and sense who this Word really is, who became flesh and camped among us, who really became man and in this new way of being entered into total humiliation in order to bring us out into this glory of the Father, then we can begin to marvel again. And then this mystery of the Incarnation can dawn on us ever more deeply and, like St Francis, we stand in wonder before the Child in the manger. ∎