As per the title, what is the relationship between life (zoe) and light (phos) in John 1:4b?

Are we to understand zoe and phos as being related to egeneto/gegonen in v3

eg. That life was [the creation/metaphorically speaking 'the dawn'] of all humanity,

Or is it to be understood in relation to v5?

Eg. That life was [the light of salvation] of all mankind

Or have I completely missed the point here?

  • I've made some headway with this question since posting it. I'll add some thoughts when I get time.
    – LiamM
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 20:49
  • @LiamN: Hello, are you still active on the site?
    – user862
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 17:04
  • No way to prove this but it's interesting because -and I know nobody hear wants to discuss it- but when the physicists studied the shroud of Turin, the one thing they all agreed on is that the only thing that could have made that image was light (not light like we know it). They said it had to have come sharply and left quickly. So if it's authentic, that's your answer. That light would have everything to do with life because that was the light that entered the world when he resurrected. I don't think it's a metaphor; I think it's a real, physical light.
    – Daisy
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 1:58
  • Interesting thoughts Daisy, Thanks for sharing. @Simply A Christian, yes still active. I mainly lurk though, I only post when I am absolutely sure I have ssomething in feel is worth sharing. Why do you ask?
    – LiamM
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 22:07
  • @LiamM: Sometimes people post and never return. I wanted to be sure that you were still present to award a best answer when the time is right.
    – user862
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 22:19

5 Answers 5


The fourth gospel came to be associated with John later in the second century, but before this it had already become popular in gnostic circles. This is of interest because 'light' is a recurring theme in early gnostic thought, and John contains around 24 references to Jesus that allude to light. John is rather more mystical than the synoptic gospels and may have been influenced by gnostic thought.

The key to understanding John's references to light and life is in John 9:5:

John 9:5: As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Just as Jesus describes himself as the light of the world, so verse 4 equates the life in Jesus with the light of men. Understanding the allusion to light in this way enables us then to place verse 4 in context. When verse 5 refers to the light shining in the darkness, it is again an allusion to Jesus, although the [people in] darkness do not understand Jesus' light.

John 1:4 introduces verse 5, so is more closely connected to this verse than to verse 3.

  • Hi Dick, thank you for your succinct answers and for specifically addressing the second part of my questions re: the relation to surrounding versions. Personally, I don't buy the Gnostic origin of John theories but it wasn't part of my original question and I can't fault the how you deal with the verses in question. I'd like to give time for others to response to my comments and then I'll award the answer. Thanks again.
    – LiamM
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 16:03
  • Despite my misgivings about the opening paragraph, I am happy to accept this as answer. Thanks Dick.
    – LiamM
    Commented Aug 27, 2016 at 7:24

The relationship between life and light must be understood in terms of both egeneto/gegonen (verse 3) and light shining/phainei into darkness which did not overcome/katelaben the light (verse 5). It is not one or the other.

In practical terms, salvation requires the condition of needing to be saved; this requires the condition of having been created. In chronological sequence salvation follows both creation and the fall, (the need for salvation). It is only because something was created and fell that salvation is needed. A main point of the prologue of the fourth Gospel is that Jesus is both Creator and Redeemer. All things were created by and through Him and all things will be redeemed by and through Him.

Light is the first recorded work of creation (Genesis 1:3) and it is an element without which physical life will not survive. Given this position of primacy and repetition of creating light (Genesis 1:14-18) in the work of creation, one can conclude that light is the most important element of the created world.

Significantly, light is also a defining characteristic of eternal life:

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:23 ESV)

The work of creation was marked first by creating light; the ending work of redemption will be marked by a place of continuous light.

However, both creation and salvation include the element of darkness. In both works of creation light was separated from the darkness (Genesis 1:4, 18). A similar condition is described in the prologue:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5 ESV)

In a physical place which includes both darkness and light, darkness is an element which can serve to define light. Without the condition of darkness the nature of light is not fully known. Only by contrasting light and darkness are both recognized. On the fourth day of creation, Jesus created objects to give light to the earth and it is only by experiencing alternating periods of light and darkness that the nature of light (and darkness) is known. A similar condition is true for man:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19 ESV)

In the natural world when light is present it only conceals darkness. A light placed in a dark room does not eliminate darkness. When the light is put out, the room is again in darkness: the darkness never left. The light only concealed the darkness which was always present. In the natural world whenever light is present, so is darkness. A state of light is in reality a concurrent state of light and darkness; the two are separated yet both are present.

The physical truth about light is an example of the truth about salvation, with one difference. The light of salvation reveals and exposes the darkness within man:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 ESV)

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. (John 12:35 ESV)

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46 ESV)

When natural light emerges and enters into the work of creation and when light which is the life of man enters the natural world, the light is recognized and yet both types of darkness remain. Therefore the completing work of recreation is the removal and eradication of all darkness:

At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:8 ESV)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed… (Revelation 22:1-3 ESV)

Once all darkness is removed, the servants of God and the Lamb will see His face:

…but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5 ESV)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5 ESV)

  • Hi Rev Lad, thanks for your comprehensive answer, I really appreciate the time you have taken. However at this point I feel I know how you would read concepts of light and life within the context of biblical theology, but what I am struggling with is how that impacts your reading of John 1:4b. Perhaps you could give me a neat couple of sentences on that? Specifically, see the second part of my question. Thanks.
    – LiamM
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 15:48
  • @LiamM My answer is edited to reflect your comments. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 16:16

Genesis 1:1-3 records:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

That was day one of Creation, when light (φῶς) was made.

Genesis 2:7 records:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

That was day six of Creation, when Adam's body was made from the fundamental elements that make up the ground. However, his life (ζωὴ) was not made, but was transferred to him, breathed into him (as we have it depicted in the text), by God.

Light had a beginning, and Adam's body had a beginning, but Adam's life simply IS, by the same reasoning that God IS. Adam's life will continue to be, until God decides it should return to Him. Where, and in what state, Adam's life might be at this very moment, is a question for another time. His body, however, has returned to the ground from whence it came.

Egeneto and gegonen are terms that relate to what has "come into being", i.e. things that have been made, so they aren't applicable to life.

The radiant light (φῶς - created) that Jesus life (ζωὴ - not created) provides, had it's beginning when God took on a body of flesh to enter our world. Prior to that, there was the glow provided by Israel's shabby, on-again-off-again implementation of God's Principles of Life (the Law), and before that, there was only the dim glow of the knowledge of the Law that might have been passed from the sons of God to the sons of men.


  1. How do you understand these words in context? What is it about John's words in v4 that make you think he still has creation in mind and not salvation?

Since the introduction to John's Gospel is an obvious reference to the Creation, I thought it appropriate to point out the distinction between light and life in the beginning. Light came into being on day one, but life didn't - it IS, in the same sense that God, himself, IS. Life wasn't created, it was imparted. (more about this in question 2)

It seems to me, that John was using his readers' familiarity with Creation to present a new idea, a parallel idea.

Just like on day one of the physical creation, when the light of the sun dispelled the darkness of the void, so too, on day one of a person as a new creation (spiritually awoken), the light of "the day star" (2 Peter 1:19) dispels the darkness of the spiritual void. I have no doubts John was making these connections.

  1. What makes you think that Egeneto and gegonen aren't related, since even humanity, and by extension human life, 'came into being' at some point.

In regard to Egeneto and gegonen, I should have given you a link before. They are both related to the same Greek word, ginomai - Strong's 1096, which means "comes into being" or "is born". The words refer to created things, things that consist of atoms, and so shouldn't be used in reference to something that isn't/doesn't.

Yes, humanity was born when Adam was created, but the breath of God, the life that animated his atoms and gave them cause to want to move. That was imparted to him by God.

This idea of "the breath of God" as the animating essence of being, is the best the writer of the passage could do to show us what he was witnessing. I do hope you can see the distinction between Adam as a mass of atoms, and Adam as a "living" being.

Perhaps the vision of the prophet in Ezekiel 37, might serve to reinforce this idea, and also demonstrate how the Old Testament is the foundation for every idea that appears in the New.

Ezekiel was witness to a most amazing sight:

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones;
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but...


... there was no breath in them.

The bodies lay motionless on the ground, and it wasn't until Ezekiel prophesied again, as he was instructed, that the breath of God entered into the bodies and:

they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

At the conclusion of the vision, God says this concerning Israel:

[I] shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.

This prophecy finds its ultimate fulfilment in the "born again" experience, when a person through faith, is made alive in Jesus Christ.

  • Hi Enegue, thanks for taking the time to reply. Couple of questions: 1. How do you understand these words in context? What is it about John's words in v4 that make you think he still has creation in mind and not salvation? 2. what makes you think that Egeneto and gegonen aren't related, since even humanity, and by extension human life, 'came into being' at some point. Thanks. :)
    – LiamM
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 9:09
  • No pain at all. It's nice to have some interest shown in a different point of view. I will add my thoughts to my answer.
    – enegue
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 9:24
  • The assertion «Adam's life simply IS, by the same reasoning that God IS» is neither supported by the text in question here nor, indeed, anywhere else in Scripture. Only the second Adam is talked about it terms of being co-eternal.
    – Caleb
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 13:22
  • @Caleb What is the breath of God?
    – enegue
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:42
  • 2
    I dunno Enegue, I still feel like you've not answered the question. You say that John is speaking of Creation and I would agree that this is certainly the case in v2-3. However, I do not believe that this is 'obvious' in v4b - hence the question. It sought of feels like you have talked around the verse, and included a lot of cross references rather than engaging with it head on. Maybe I need to make it clearer. Thank you for your time though I would encourage you to read my original question and ask yourself if you have actually answered it. That said I won't mark you down for your hard work.
    – LiamM
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 11:17

ἡ G3588 T-NSF ζωὴ G2222 N-NSF ἦν G2258 V-IXI-3S τὸ G3588 T-NSN φῶς G5457 N-NSN Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Revised Edition, edited by Barbara and Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger in cooperation with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, Münster/Westphalia, © 2012 Deutsche

Verb ἦν

V-IXI-3S - Robinson's Morphological Analysis Codes Tense: Imperfect Voice: no voice stated Mood: Indicative Person: third Number: Singular

  • Indicative = certainty. (The indicative is the only infallible way where the "tenses" express the time! In the indicative, the present tense definite action in the present; the imperfect, perfect tenses, and more than completed, express actions in the past; the future and future tenses perfect express actions in the future. Not always this is true in other ways (imperative, subjunctive, etc.)).

  • Imperfect (past action and that, in this past, usually (but not always!) it was linear, continuous, more or less usual, customary, usual, even that perhaps there are rare fault opportunities in this acting).

Answer: The relation described in John 1:4b and verse 5, was a relation in the past.

  • Hi Betho, thanks for your reply. Would you mind expanding it a bit as I am not sure what you are trying to say in your conclusion? In particular, you haven't addressed how your conclusion effects how v4b should be read. Thanks.
    – LiamM
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 15:42

It's talking about salvation.. There is an opinion that "Light" refers to creation, however people forget Christ is Light. So anything in the New Testament dealing with light, refers to Christ and Salvation.


If you look at 1 John 1:5 its says This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declared unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness.

Also, if you read John 1:1-14 you will see that it talks about creation. The light is not the light differing night and day..

It is the light of life, light of men. The man is the carrier of the Light (Spirit of God) he was not the light, but a carrier of the Light..

Now if you look in Genesis 1:3-5 and 1:14-19 light was created twice.. I have talked to scholars and they say that 1:3-5 is the creation of John 1:1-14.

  • Please provide an answer that includes evidence that what you are opining is accurate. Thanks.
    – user10231
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.