Question:

John says that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(1:1). He continues in verse 14 and identifies “the Word” as Jesus, “ And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,( and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” This appears to teach that Jesus existed in heaven before he was born of Mary. John the Baptist seems to confirm this when he twice says that Jesus was preferred him, for he was before him ( John 1:15,30), even though he was actually born six months before Jesus. Can you explain this please?

Answer:

This context as the questioner implies, can be taken to teach the pre-existence of Christ. It is certainly one of the main texts used by Trinitarians to support their belief that Jesus was part of the “Godhead” and existed prior to his birth of Mary. Indeed the Trinitarian bias of the translators in many standard versions is evident. Most follow the King James Version and capitalise the expression “the word” as “the Word”. And the New Revised Standard Version translates verse 18: “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.” This is biased thinking masquerading as objective translation.

The word translated “Word” in the original is “logos”. Liddell and Scott define ‘logos’ as “the word, or outward form by which the inward thought is expressed; the inward thought itself.”

Young defines it as “word, speech, matter, reason”. It is clear that the opening verses of the Gospel of John allude to the creation in the beginning. Indeed “the word” in the sense of the divine plan, thought or intention was with God before the creative acts recorded in Genesis one and two, took place. And so much was the very being of God bound up in His thinking and intent, that John declares: “the Word was God.”

Scripture places emphasis on “the word” as the acts of creation, the physical outworking of the divine mind and intention, were carried out. The Psalmist declared: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth…For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast”( Psa 33:6,9). Through Genesis 1 as the acts of each day of creation are recorded, we note the formula: “And God said” following the pattern of the first such declaration: “And God said, Let there be light and there was light”( Gen 1:3).

The “word” is personified in other scriptural contexts. For example, Psalm 107:20, “He sent his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions;” and in Psalm147:15, “He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly.” So God forms His intent, issues His “command” or “word” and His angelic messengers go forth to give effect tothat word, for the Psalmist tells us that they “do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word”( Psa 103:20–21). We ought not to be surprised at the personification of God’s “word” in this way. For we are all familiar with the personification of God’s “wisdom” in a similar way in Proverbs . Firstly wisdom is presented as a desirable attribute for all to possess, and then as being pre-eminently the divine attribute: “Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was…When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth” (.8:22–27). “Word” and “wisdom” then, in personifying the divine mind, thinking, and intention are virtually interchangeable.

In John 1, Brother John Carter suggests that verses 2 to 13 are parenthetical, so that verse 14 takes us from the “word” personified as expressing the divine mind and plan from the beginning to its manifestation now in the Son of God: “The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus was now physically present, whereas in verses 1 and 2 he was present in the mind and plan of his Father from the beginning. Brother Carter beautifully writes: “The thought of the word of God as the expression of His will, effective for its execution, passes easily to the thought of the person who is the manifestation of God, and who perfectly did His will…” The Psalmist, by inspiration brings Jesus very thoughts on this matter before us: “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart”( Psa 40:8). So the “word” from the beginning was not Jesus, but Jesus was involved in the thinking, the purpose and the intent of God from the beginning. When he was born of Mary, “God was manifest in the flesh” and Gabriel declared to her: “the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” ( Luke 1:35). So there was a divine overshadowing. The one to be born was uniquely described as “that holy thing”, but he “shall be called”, not “God”, not “God the Son”, but what he was, “the Son of God.”

Then what of the comment of John the Baptist in John1:15 and re-iterated in verse 30 that “He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me”? Let us note again, the simple explanation of Brother Carter: “Jesus was after John in time, but he “became before him” in status, as in “foreordination” (1Pet 1:20)– the cause of such priority being that Jesus “was first in regard of me” (R.V.). As a man, Jesus was John’s junior by six months, but viewed as the manifestation of the Word the relationship is reversed. The “Word” is first by unmentioned ages.”

Our great blessing is not only to understand the “Word”, the purpose of God to bring salvation in Christ, known to God from the beginning, but to be associated with our Lord as those “that believe on his name…born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”(John1:12–13).

Readers who wish to explore this topic further might profitably review:

John Carter, The Gospel of John

Tecwyn Morgan, Studies in John, The Christadelphian Vol.127

Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures