This passage is taken from the Prologue of John's Gospel. Scholars have noted the Prologue has been presented with the use of inverted parallelism around a central idea, also called a chiasm. The significance of this arrangement "lies in its focus upon a pivotal theme, about which the other propositions of the literary unit are developed." 1
Brad McCoy gives two illustrations of "the impact of chiastic structuring":
The first is a vertical stairway of thought initially ascending to and then descending from a central, climactic pivot point. The second is a horizontally oriented rhetorical pointer that focuses the attention of the overall discourse on that central thought unit. 2
The purpose of the chiasm is to convey a central theme with supporting points which are connected to other supporting points by parallelism. Thus, when examining the meaning of any particular component of the structure it is necessary to determine how that component has been arranged within the structure. Since John 1:14, is a supporting statement, its meaning must be placed within the context of the central theme and its parallel partner: 3
A The Word with God the Father (1:1–2)
B The Word’s role in creation (1:3)
C God’s Grace to mankind (1:4–5)
D Witness of John the Baptist (1:6–8)
E The Incarnation of the Word (1:9–11)
X Saving Faith in the Incarnate Word (1:12– 13)
E’ The Incarnation of the Word (1:14)
D’ Witness of John the Baptist (1:15)
C’ God’s Grace to mankind (1:16)
B’ The Word’s role in re-creation (1:17)
A’ The Word with God the Father (1:18)
What is the significance of John 1:14 in terms of "Saving Faith in the Incarnate Word" and how do the two Incarnation of the Word of the statements (1:9-11 and 1:14) support one another and the central theme? Once these are established, it is appropriate to approach the question of the John's Incarnation of the Word to compare with the creation of the first man.
Children of God and the "Only Begotten"
The main theme of the Prologue is the ability of human beings to be born again by the will of God:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13) [ESV]
First, in contrast to the many children of God, Jesus is the "only begotten" from the Father. "Only begotten" is μονογενής and means a single of its kind. In other words, among the family of God, with its many children, Jesus is unique. An example from the contemporary world would be a family composed of many children, one of which was born naturally and the others which were adopted. Among that family, all are members yet one has a unique status.
Second, the "only begotten" of God is also identified using glory. That is, He is not simply the "only begotten" it is His glory as the only begotten which is stressed. Throughout the remainder of the book, John develops the theme of glory in ways to distinguish Jesus's glory as different from man's and equivalent to God's. Two examples are:
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. (John 12:41)
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:5)
Third, there are two parallel statements about the Incarnation of the Word:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (1:9-11)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:14)
Jesus is not only the unique One among the children of God because of His glory, He is also:
- The true light coming into the world
- He was in the world and the world was made through Him
- He came to His own
- He was the Word who became flesh to dwell among us
- He was full of grace and truth
The First Man
The first man can also be considered to be unique among people. He was the only one created by the LORD God; formed from the water and dust of the earth and received breath directly from the LORD God (Genesis 2:6-7). The first woman was formed from one of his ribs and all subsequent people were born by natural means.
Because other types of life were formed in a similar fashion to the first man, he is unique only when compared to other people. In other words, compared to all of creation the first man has no claim to being unique. His claim to uniqueness lies in God's plan to create man in the image and likeness of God. However, that plan included the woman. So while the man was created first and differently from the woman, there is nothing singularly unique in him.
The first man was created through Jesus (John 1:3); he was not the true light; the world was not made through him; he never came to his own; he did not have the glory as the unique One from God and, obviously, the first man did bring grace or truth into the world.
1. John Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1994, p. 18
2. Brad McCoy, "Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature," [Chafer Theological Seminary], p. 21
3. Ibid., p 29