1: Who was here First? (John 1:1-2)
1: Who was here first? (John 1:1-2)
Or: Who sets the agenda, who writes the rules and who runs the game?
Whatever John wants us to learn and understand from his book starts with God. Everything always does whether we like it or not. And for good reason.
“I was here first!” It is a common statement among children. It is not normally a statement that is designed to encourage sharing, humility or serving others. It is normally a declaration of a personal right, founded on the dubious distinction that they were there before anyone else.
It can be over the most trivial of things; for instance, which chair a child sits on at the supper table. Older siblings can then try (often unhelpfully) to alleviate the situation with a heavy dose of sarcastic logic: “Actually I was sitting on that chair before you were”.
“No you weren’t”.
“Yes, I was, I was sitting on that chair before you were born!”
“Well Mum and Dad sat on it before you did”.
And so continues the great “who was here first?” debate. Despite the angst such a disagreement can bring to the home, for some of the children it is a hugely significant debate. This is because, in their minds, it establishes their rights and the privileges that go along with them. In a game, for instance, it gives credence to a child’s desire to dictate the rules, “it was my idea first.”
The issue is actually the crucial issue for mankind to debate. In a time when some of the most prominent scientists of the world are declaring that it is not only possible but almost certain that the universe came into being without a God, the question of “who was here first?” is the biggest of them all.
Not only is it about establishing truth, it is also an issue of rights and ultimately who has the privileges that go with those rights. If the answer is “whatever components were necessary to cause the first great big bang in space”, then no one person or group of people can claim the rights that come from being first. Those rights and the privileges that go with them are up for grabs and will be assumed by whoever, or whatever, has the greatest power, influence and control.
As a result the world is now trying to establish a universal code for rights and privileges on the basis of our own wisdom and experience, because humans are the beings currently in that place of power, influence and control. Therefore it is assumed that the human intellect is the most able of all to settle these issues. These thinkers are not foolish enough to say: “We were here first”. But they are saying: “we are the best suited and equipped to tell the world how it should operate”. For lack of anyone else to set the parameters the world is trusting its’ own perspective to make the right decisions.
2000 years ago a fisherman from Galilee entered the debate with a book of his own. It may seem a long way away now, but within 200 years his ideas and those of his fellow apostles were being debated at the highest level of society and adopted by many of them. He begins by answering the question of “who was here first?”
The book of John was written to introduce people to Jesus and the life that He offers to all who will receive and believe in Him. John seems to assume that his readers would either have a Jewish background, or a Greek cultural heritage, or maybe a combination of both.
Those with a Jewish background would understand the concept of there being One supreme God, the creator and sustainer of all things. Those with a Greek background would understand the concept of a “Logos” (which means “word” or “reason”).
Plato and other Greek philosophers had expounded their theory of a “Logos” to explain their worldview. To them, God was eternal and the ultimate creator but far too pure and holy to be closely relating with His creation. It was necessary then for there to be a “Logos”, an agent issuing from God who was used by God to create the universe and then be the ongoing connecting point between God and His creation.
Many early church fathers believed that God was at work in this Greek philosophy to lay the stage for Jesus’ appearing, just as He was at work in the Old Testament for the Jews. However, there were dangers of taking this connection too far, especially as, to the Greek philosophers, Logos was not equal to God, or with God from the beginning.
Some Jewish philosophers had also begun to think of the concept of the “Word of God” being an actual distinct person who emanated from God and executed His will in creation. If they were conversing or writing in Greek, they would have used the term “Logos” (the Word) to describe this person.
Whatever their backgrounds were, and whatever the depth of their understanding was, the first few verses of John’s gospel were designed both to connect and to challenge them. John connects with his readers by echoing some of their beliefs. At the same time he challenges them by taking their beliefs to a whole new level. He does both in the first two verses.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2)
They are a deliberate echo of the first few verses of the Torah, the Old Testament books of Moses which start with: “In the beginning”. John also starts: “In the beginning”.
Genesis 1 continues: “In the beginning God” (Theos in the Greek). John writes: “In the beginning was the Word (Logos in the Greek)”. This is an example of connecting and yet challenging the current thinking.
The acknowledgement here in the Bible that there is a “Logos” is a clear bridge and connecting point to Greek philosophy. The statement that Logos was there “in the beginning” would have been more controversial. John here is not trying to diminish the place of Logos in the Greek mind, the opposite is true. He is seeking to elevate the Logos in their thinking.
John carries on: “and the Word (Logos) was with God (Theos)”.
John here appears to be highlighting the distinctiveness between Logos and God. He is saying that there were two persons and that they were both there “in the beginning”. That may have been a very disturbing idea to some Jews. In the beginning there was one God, one person and weren’t some of the most important words of the Law: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4)?
To some Jews, John may have been writing heresy. However, John wasn’t finished: “And the Word (Logos) was God (Theos)”.
Confused yet? Both Jewish and Greek first time readers probably would have been. Now it seems that John is saying that really Logos (the Word) and Theos (God) are one and the same person. Perhaps there could be a different way of interpreting “and the Logos was with Theos” that didn’t make them two distinct persons?
Before they get the opportunity to try and work that one out, John reiterates the truth of the first statement again: “This One” (which can only be translated as “this person – this unique, distinct person”) “was in the beginning with God (Theos)”.
John clearly seems to contradict himself; not a good start for someone who aspires to persuade educated, intelligent people steeped in Greek philosophy or Jewish theology. In short he has said: “In the beginning there were two distinct persons (Logos and Theos, the Word and God)…and they were the same…and they were two persons.” Hmmm!
Some of the greatest minds of history have given themselves to finding an answer to this riddle. This seeming contradiction has caused great controversy, dividing churches and nations and has even been used as fuel for starting wars.
How can a simple fisherman and his friends have stirred up so much intellectual debate? How can they seem to understand so easily what even the greatest thinkers struggle to comprehend?
Perhaps it is not right to say that John “understood” what he was writing. He was not trying to explain how it worked, he was simply stating what he knew to be true, whether he fully understood it or not.
Truth is not dependent on understanding. Truth is truth whether we understand it or not.
Truth is not even dependent on faith. Truth is truth whether we believe it or not.
Our desire for understanding is understandable, but you could argue (as many have done) that if we were able to understand God, then He wouldn’t be God. Any intellect that created us must surely be greater than ours!
John had met, touched, talked to and watched this person he first calls “Logos” and he knew it to be true. This Logos, his master, teacher and best friend was in the beginning with God because He was God, even though He was a distinct person.
John’s purpose, then, is not to begin to explain the workings of Almighty God, but rather to elevate this person, the Logos, the Word, Reason, to full deity and to make it clear that therefore, as God, He was here first.
He is not writing heresy, because he is in no way contradicting Genesis 1, he is simply expanding our understanding of what those verses at the beginning of the Torah really mean.
When God says in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image”, we now know that He is not talking like the Queen of England who refers to herself as “we”. This is not some elevated statement of royalty. It is the truth. There was always One God, but that One God was, is and always will be, more than One Person.
If the Logos was first, then He has all the rights and privileges that go with that position. If that is true then truth and morals are not set by human perspective but by a divine Person. It is His rightful place to set the parameters for the rights and privileges of all the rest of us who follow after.
Who was on the chair first? Actually The Maker was! And John wants us to know that this Person, the Logos, who is soon to be revealed to us as Jesus, has all the rights and privileges and power that go with being here first. He, with God and as God, writes the rules, sets the agenda and runs the game.
What was here first? That is an even more wonderful truth.
Not just One Maker, but Two and, as we’ll discover later in this chapter Three. Living together in perfectly satisfying harmony and unity.
This is crucial for our understanding of the truth. It all started with relationship. It all holds together in relationship. It will all end in wonderful, soul satisfying relationship.
That is the context of everything else John shares with us in his gospel because, by the time we reach the end, we will have discovered that there is a place in that relationship for you, for me, for all of us. If we will believe and receive.Posted on: February 1, 2017Peter Todd