Read an Excerpt
John 1-11 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary
By John MacArthur
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2006 John MacArthur, Jr.
All rights reserved.
The Divine Word (John 1:1–5)
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 into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (1:1–5)
The opening section of John's gospel expresses the most profound truth in the universe in the clearest terms. Though easily understood by a child, John's Spirit-inspired words convey a truth beyond the ability of the greatest minds in human history to fathom: the eternal, infinite God became a man in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The glorious, incontrovertible truth that in Jesus the divine "Word became flesh" (1:14) is the theme of John's gospel.
The deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is an essential, nonnegotiable tenet of the Christian faith. Several lines of biblical evidence flow together to prove conclusively that He is God.
First, the direct statements of Scripture affirm that Jesus is God. In keeping with his emphasis on Christ's deity, John records several of those statements. The opening verse of his gospel declares, "the Word [Jesus] was God" (see the discussion of this verse later in this chapter). In John's gospel Jesus repeatedly assumed for Himself the divine name "I am" (cf. 4:26;8:24, 28, 58; 13:19:18:5, 6, 8). In 10:30, He claimed to be one in nature and essence with the Father (that the unbelieving Jews recognized this as a claim to deity is clear from their reaction in v. 33; cf. 5:18). Nor did Jesus correct Thomas when he addressed Him as "My Lord and my God!" (20:28); in fact, He praised him for his faith (v. 29). Jesus' reaction is inexplicable if He were not God.
To the Philippians Paul wrote, "[Jesus] existed in the form of God," possessing absolute "equality with God" (Phil. 2:6). In Colossians 2:9 he declared, "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Romans 9:5 refers to Christ as "God blessed forever"; Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 call Him "our God and Savior." God the Father addressed the Son as God in Hebrews 1:8: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom." In his first epistle John referred to Jesus Christ as "the true God" (1 John 5:20).
Second, Jesus Christ receives titles elsewhere in Scripture given to God. As noted above, Jesus took for Himself the divine name "I am." In John 12:40 John quoted Isaiah 6:10, a passage which in Isaiah's vision refers to God (cf. Isa. 6:5). Yet in verse 41 John declared, "These things Isaiah said because he saw His [Christ's; cf. vv. 36, 37, 42] glory, and he spoke of Him." Jeremiah prophesied that the Messiah would be called "The Lord [YHWH] our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6).
God and Jesus are both called Shepherd (Ps. 23:1—John 10:14); Judge (Gen. 18:25—2 Tim. 4:1, 8); Holy One (Isa. 10:20—Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:27; 3:14); First and Last (Isa. 44:6; 48:12—Rev. 1:17; 22:13); Light (Ps. 27:1—John 8:12); Lord of the Sabbath (Ex. 16:23, 29; Lev. 19:3—Matt. 12:8); Savior (Isa. 43:11—Acts 4:12; Titus 2:13); Pierced One (Zech. 12:10—John 19:37); Mighty God (Isa. 10:21—Isa. 9:6); Lord of lords (Deut. 10:17—Rev. 17:14); Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8—Rev. 22:13); Lord of Glory (Ps. 24:10—1 Cor. 2:8); and Redeemer (Isa. 41:14; 48:17; 63:16—Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:12).
Third, Jesus Christ possesses the incommunicable attributes of God, those unique to Him. Scripture reveals Christ to be eternal (Mic. 5:2; Isa. 9:6), omnipresent (Matt. 18:20; 28:20), omniscient (Matt. 11:27; John 16:30; 21:17), omnipotent (Phil. 3:21), immutable (Heb. 13:8), sovereign (Matt. 28:18), and glorious (John 17:5; 1 Cor. 2:8; cf. Isa. 42:8; 48:11, where God states that He will not give His glory to another).
Fourth, Jesus Christ does the works that only God can do. He created all things (John 1:3; Col. 1:16), sustains the creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), raises the dead (John 5:21; 11:25–44), forgives sin (Mark 2:10; cf. v. 7), and His word stands forever (Matt. 24:35; cf. Isa. 40:8).
Fifth, Jesus Christ received worship (Matt. 14:33; 28:9; John 9:38; Phil. 2:10; Heb. 1:6)—even though He taught that only God is to be worshiped (Matt. 4:10). Scripture also records that both holy men (Acts 10:25–26) and holy angels (Rev. 22:8–9) refused worship.
Finally, Jesus Christ received prayer, which is only to be addressed to God (John 14:13–14; Acts 7:59–60; 1 John 5:13–15).
Verses 1–18, the prologue to John's presentation of the deity of Christ, are a synopsis or overview of the entire book. John clearly defined his purpose in writing his gospel in 20:31—that his readers "may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [they] may have life in His name." John revealed Jesus Christ as "the Son of God," the eternal second person of the Trinity. He became a man, the "Christ" (Messiah), and offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins. Those who put their faith in Him will "have life in His name," while those who reject Him will be judged and sentenced to eternal punishmnt.
The reality that Jesus is God, introduced in the prologue, is expounded throughout the book by John's careful selection of claims and miracles that seal the case. Verses 1–3 of the prologue teach that Jesus is co-equal and coeternal with the Father; verses 4–5 relate the salvation He brought, which was announced by His herald, John the Baptist (vv. 6–8); verses 9–13 describe the reaction of the human race to Him, either rejection (vv. 10–11) or acceptance (vv. 12–13); verses 14–18 summarize the entire prologue.
The prologue also introduces several key terms that appear throughout the book, including light (3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35–36, 46), darkness (3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46), life (3:15–16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:21, 24, 26, 39–40; 6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47–48, 51, 53–54, 63, 68; 8:12; 10:10, 28; 11:25; 12:25, 50; 14:6; 17:2, 3; 20:31), witness (or testify; 2:25; 3:11; 5:31, 36, 39; 7:7; 8:14; 10:25; 12:17; 15:26–27; 18:37), glory (2:11; 5:41, 44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4, 40; 12:41; 17:5, 22, 24), and world (3:16–17, 19; 4:42; 6:14, 33, 51; 7:7; 8:12, 23, 26; 9:5, 39; 10:36; 11:27; 12:19, 31, 46–47; 13:1; 14:17, 19, 22, 27, 30–31; 15:18–19; 16:8, 11, 20, 28, 33; 17:5- 6, 9, 11, 13–16, 18, 21, 23–25; 18:36–37).
From the first five verses of John's gospel prologue flow three evidences of the deity of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ: His preexistence, His creative power, and His self-existence.
The Preexistence of the Word
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (1:1–2)
Arche (beginning) can mean "source," or "origin" (cf. Col. 1:18; Rev. 3:14); or "rule," "authority," "ruler," or "one in authority" (cf. Luke 12:11; 20:20; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15; Titus 3:1). Both of those connotations are true of Christ, who is both the Creator of the universe (v. 3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) and its ruler (Col. 2:10; Eph. 1:20–22; Phil. 2:9–11). But arche refers here to the beginning of the universe depicted in Genesis 1:1.
Jesus Christ was already in existence when the heavens and the earth were created; thus, He is not a created being, but existed from all eternity. (Since time began with the creation of the physical universe, whatever existed before that creation is eternal.) "The Logos [Word] did not then begin to be, but at that point at which all else began to be, He already was. In the beginning, place it where you may, the Word already existed. In other words, the Logos is before time, eternal." (Marcus Dods, "John" in W. Robertson Nicoll, ed. The Expositors' Bible Commentary [Reprint; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002], 1:683. Emphasis in original.). That truth provides definitive proof of Christ's deity, for only God is eternal.
The imperfect tense of the verb eimi (was), describing continuing action in the past, further reinforces the eternal preexistence of the Word. It indicates that He was continuously in existence before the beginning. But even more significant is the use of eimi instead of gino-mai ("became"). The latter term refers to things that come into existence (cf. 1:3, 10, 12, 14). Had John used ginomai, he would have implied that the Word came into existence at the beginning along with the rest of creation. But eimi stresses that the Word always existed; there was never a point when He came into being.
The concept of the Word(logos) is one imbued with meaning for both Jews and Greeks. To the Greek philosophers, the logos was the impersonal, abstract principle of reason and order in the universe. It was in some sense a creative force, and also the source of wisdom. The average Greek may not have fully understood all the nuances of meaning with which the philosophers invested the term logos. Yet even to laymen the term would have signified one of the most important principles in the universe.
To the Greeks, then, John presented Jesus as the personification and embodiment of the logos. Unlike the Greek concept, however, Jesus was not an impersonal source, force, principle, or emanation. In Him, the true logos who was God became a man—a concept foreign to Greek thought.
But logos was not just a Greek concept. The word of the Lord was also a significant Old Testament theme, well-known to the Jews. The word of the Lord was the expression of divine power and wisdom. By His word God introduced the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15:1), gave Israel the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:3–4; Deut. 5:5; cf. Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:10), attended the building of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:11–13), revealed God to Samuel (1 Sam. 3:21), pronounced judgment on the house of Eli (1 Kings 2:27), counseled Elijah (1 Kings 19:9ff.), directed Israel through God's spokesmen (cf. 1 Sam. 15:10ff.; 2 Sam. 7:4ff.; 24:11ff.; 1 Kings 16:1–4; 17:2–4., 8ff.; 18:1; 21:17–19; 2 Chron. 11:2–4), was the agent of creation (Ps. 33:6), and revealed Scripture to the prophets (Jer. 1:2; Ezek. 1:3; Dan. 9:2; Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Mic. 1:1; Zeph. 1:1; Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1; Mal. 1:1).
John presented Jesus to his Jewish readers as the incarnation of divine power and revelation. He initiated the new covenant (Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15; 12:24), instructs believers (John 10:27), unites them into a spiritual temple (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21), revealed God to man (John 1:18; 14:7–9), judges those who reject Him (John 3:18; 5:22), directs the church through those whom He has raised up to lead it (Eph. 4:11–12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1–3), was the agent of creation (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and inspired the Scripture penned by the New Testament writers (John 14:26) through the Holy Spirit whom He sent (John 15:26). As the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ is God's final word to mankind: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" (Heb. 1:1–2).
Then John took his argument a step further. In His eternal preexistence the Word was with God. The English translation does not bring out the full richness of the Greek expression (pros ton theon). That phrase means far more than merely that the Word existed with God; it "[gives] the picture of two personal beings facing one another and engaging in intelligent discourse" (W. Robert Cook, The Theology of John [Chicago: Moody, 1979], 49). From all eternity Jesus, as the second person of the trinity, was "with the Father [pros ton patera]" (1 John 1:2) in deep, intimate fellowship. Perhaps pros ton theon could best be rendered "face-to-face." The Word is a person, not an attribute of God or an emanation from Him. And He is of the same essence as the Father.
Yet in an act of infinite condescension, Jesus left the glory of heaven and the privilege of face-to-face communion with His Father (cf. John 17:5). He willingly "emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men.... He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7–8). Charles Wesley captured some of the wonder of that marvelous truth in the familiar hymn "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?":
He left His Father's throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race.
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
John's description of the Word reached its pinnacle in the third clause of this opening verse. Not only did the Word exist from all eternity, and have face-to-face fellowship with God the Father, but also the Word was God. That simple statement, only four words in both English and Greek (theos en ho logos), is perhaps the clearest and most direct declaration of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture.
But despite their clarity, heretical groups almost from the moment John penned these words have twisted their meaning to support their false doctrines concerning the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. Noting that theos (God) is anarthrous (not preceded by the definite article), some argue that it is an indefinite noun and mistranslate the phrase, "the Word was divine" (i.e., merely possessing some of the qualities of God) or, even more appalling, "the Word was a god."
The absence of the article before theos, however, does not make it indefinite. Logos (Word) has the definite article to show that it is the subject of the sentence (since it is in the same case as theos). Thus the rendering "God was the Word" is invalid, because "the Word," not "God," is the subject. It would also be theologically incorrect, because it would equate the Father ("God" whom the Word was with in the preceding clause) with the Word, thus denying that the two are separate persons. The predicate nominative (God) describes the nature of the Word, showing that He is of the same essence as the Father (cf. H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [Toronto: MacMillan, 1957], 139–40; A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament [Reprint: Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978], 67–68).
Excerpted from John 1-11 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary by John MacArthur. Copyright © 2006 John MacArthur, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.