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Page 4- John 1:1- Caveat Lector (Reader Beware)

The Word “With God”

John’s prologue continues: “And the word was with God.” So read our versions. And so the Greek might be rendered, if one has already decided, against all the evidence, that by “word” John meant a person, the Son of God, alive before his birth.

Allowance must be made for Hebrew idiom. Without a feel for the Hebrew background, as so often in the New Testament, we are deprived of a vital key to understanding. We might ask of an English speaker, “When was your word last ‘with you’?” The plain fact is that in English, which is not the language of the Bible, a “word” is never “with” you. A person can be “with you,” certainly, but not a word.

But in the wisdom literature of the Bible a “word” certainly can be “with” a person. And the meaning is that a plan or purpose — a word — is kept in one’s heart ready for execution. For example Job says to God (10:13): “Yet these things you have concealed in your heart; I know that this is with you.” The NASV gives a more intelligible sense in English by reading, “ I know that this is within you.” The NIV reads “in your mind.” But the Hebrew literally reads “with you.” Again in Job 23:13, 14 it is said of God, “What his soul desires, that he does, for he performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with him,” meaning, of course, that God’s plans are stored up in His mind. God’s word is His intention, held in His heart as plans to be carried out in the world He has created. Sometimes what God has “with Him” is the decree He has planned. With this we may compare similar thoughts: “This is the portion of a wicked man with God and the inheritance which tyrants receive from Him” (Job 27:13). “I will instruct you in the power of God; what is with the Almighty I will not conceal” (Job 27:11).

We should also consider the related concept of “Wisdom.” In Job we find this: “The deep says ‘It [Wisdom] is not in me.’ And the sea says, ‘It is not with me’ ” (Job 28:14). To have wisdom or word “with” one is to have them in one’s mind and heart. “With him is wisdom and strength. To him belong counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13). And of course Wisdom, that is Lady Wisdom, was with (Hebrew, etzel; LXX, para) God at the beginning (Prov. 8:22, 30).

In Genesis 40:14 we read “Keep me in mind when it goes well with you,” and the text reads literally “Remember me with yourself...” From all these examples it is clear that if something is “with” a person, it is lodged in the mind, often as a decreed purpose or plan. Paul remarked in Galatians 2:5 that the Gospel might continue “with [pros] them,” in their thinking. John in his Gospel elsewhere uses para, not pros to express the proximity of one person to another (John 1:39; 4:40; 8:38; 14:17, 23, 25; 19:25; cp. 14:23. Note also meta in John 3:22, 25ff, etc. See New Int. Dict. of NT Theology, Vol. 3, p. 1205).

Thus also in John 1:1, “In the beginning God had a plan and that plan was within God’s heart and was itself ‘God’ ” — that is, God in His self-revelation. The plan was the very expression of God’s will. It was a divine Plan, reflective of His inner being, close to the heart of God. John is fond of the word “is.” But it is not always an “is” of strict identity. Jesus “is” the resurrection (“I am the resurrection”). God “is” spirit. God “is” love and light (cp. “All flesh is grass”). In fact, God is not actually one-to-one identical with light and love, and Jesus is not literally the resurrection. “The word was God” means that the word was fully expressive of God’s mind. A person “is” his mind, metaphorically speaking. Jesus is the one who can bring about our resurrection. God communicates through His spirit (John 4:24). The word is the index of God’s intention and purpose. It was in His heart, expressive of His very being. As the Translators’ Translation senses the meaning, “the Word was with God and shared his nature,” “the Word was divine.”4 The word, then, is the divine expression, the divine Plan, the very self of God revealed. The Greek phrase “theos een o logos5 (“the word was God”) can be rendered in different ways. The subject is “word” (logos) but the emphasis falls on what the word was: “God” (theos, with no definite article), which stands at the head of the sentence. “God” here is the predicate. It has a slightly adjectival sense which is very hard to put exactly into English. John can say that God is love or light. This is not an exact equivalence. God is full of light and love, characterized by light and love. The word is similarly a perfect expression of God and His mind. The word, we might say, is the mind and heart of God Himself. John therefore wrote: “In the beginning God expressed Himself.” Not “In the beginning God begat a Son.” That imposition of later creeds on the text has been responsible for all sorts of confusion and even mischief — when some actually killed others over the issue of the so-called “eternal Son.”

 

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[4] British and Foreign Bible Society, 1973, emphasis added.

[5] The transliteration reflects modern Greek pronunciation.

 

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