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John 1:1 (ESV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

In the above passage, each use of the emboldened English verb "was" is, in Greek ἦν. In each instance, ἦν is in the imperfect indicative active, third person singular.

My question is this:

According to this site, the imperfect tense of ancient Greek verbs

is essentially the PRESENT tense shifted back into the past. In other words, the IMPERFECT was conceived of as a state of existence, or an action that was still going...

If this understanding is correct, does this then mean that the Λόγος was already existing when the beginning began? That is to say, the Λόγος predates the "beginning", that is, all that John 1:1-4 states regarding the Λόγος was an already active state of existence prior to the "beginning", i.e. prior to Genesis 1:1?

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  • The (Greek) imperfect is (more or less) the equivalent of the (English) past continuous. Just like the latter, it denotes a continued action happening within that past (not necessarily prior to it, as you seem to [mis]interpret), with possible repercussions in the present (somewhat similar to the English present perfect). – Lucian Jun 19 '20 at 10:23
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'The beginning' is the beginning. Nothing can 'predate' the beginning. Otherwise it is not the beginning. There is no such thing as 'prior' to the beginning'. Else the beginning is not the beginning.

Scripture states 'before the foundation of the world' and also 'from the foundation of the world' and also 'from everlasting'. But no statement is ever made of the kind you are stating. 'In the beginning was the Logos', is what we are told.

In the beginning, He who is identified as 'Logos' - was.

From a point in time, about 90 A.D. possibly, John the Apostle writes and, looking back to 'the beginning' he states what 'was' at that prior time, in the past, from his point of view in 90 A.D.

Thus he uses the third person, singular, imperfect (as stated by Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon).

Daniel B. Wallace treats of the Greek imperfect in pp 540-553 in his book Beyond the Basics and makes remarks about the imperfect in comparison to the aorist. What is pertinent to this question is that he states :

The imperfect is often used to describe an action or state that is in progress in past time from the viewpoint of the speaker.

I think that that statement sums up the use of John's verb in this context as John describes a state that existed at a time that was in the past according to his own point of view, as he wrote (or dictated) the words.


Deity, as such, that is to say divine nature, is eternal in essence. God is Spirit and God is eternal. He has no beginning. And God was the Logos, is what John states.

Thus He who is named as Logos - who was present at the beginning - is eternal. Who has no beginning.

So when there was a beginning, he was - of course - there.

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    Nigel J, Thank you for responding, but I find your answer contradictory. At first you say nothing predates the beginning, but then you make the claim that God and the Logos are eternal, meaning they are already existing before the creation event occurs, so that they can actuate the very beginning you claim they don't predate. Which is it? – The Votive Soul Oct 15 '19 at 21:21
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    @TheVotiveSoul Eternity does not 'predate' time. Eternity is a timeless state. The beginning is the beginning. Nothing is 'before' the beginning'. That which is eternal - is. That which is begun, begins. They are different concepts. – Nigel J Oct 15 '19 at 22:44
  • Hi, Nigel J. This is my takeaway: Eternity and beginning are mutually exclusive. One involves time, the other not. If there is a beginning, and if there is something eternal, that which is eternal exists independently and outside of whatever it was that began. Otherwise, you have that which is eternal also beginning with the "beginning", making what was allegedly eternal not so at all. My main point here is, did God and the Word exist prior to this "beginning", and is the imperfect indicative active, third person singular of eimi the manner in which the author attempted to show that? – The Votive Soul Oct 18 '19 at 0:54
  • From physics time is not independent of matter. Thus, from the time standpoint nothing can predate creation. However, that doesn't mean that God didn't exist when time didn't exist. – Perry Webb Feb 7 at 1:43
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    @PerryWebb God is eternal. Time is something different. – Nigel J Feb 7 at 7:29
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Overview
Yes as Daniel B. Wallace explains, the imperfect tense not only indicates the Word existed before the created world, it would be the correct verb to use to make that statement:

As a tense of the first principal part, the imperfect mirrors the present tense both in its general aspect and its specific uses (the only difference being, for the most part, that the imperfect is used for past time).

Like the present tense, the imperfect displays an internal aspect. That is, it portrays the action from within the event, without regard for beginning or end. This contrasts with the aorist, which portrays the action in summary fashion. For the most part, the aorist takes a snapshot of the action while the imperfect (like the present) takes a motion picture, portraying the action as it unfolds. As such, the imperfect is often incomplete and focuses on the process of the action.

With reference to time, the imperfect is almost always past. (Note that since the imperfect only occurs in the indicative mood, this tense always grammaticalizes time.) However, occasionally it portrays time other than the past (e.g., the conative imperfect may have this force to it sometimes; also the imperfect in second class conditions connotes present time - but such is due more to the aspect than the element of the tense). In general the imperfect may be diagrammed as follows:1 ![enter image description here

Therefore, "In the beginning was the Word and..." not only communicates the preexistence of the Word, it does so "without regard for beginning or end." Moreover, if the text next moved to creation, as in Genesis 1:1, the impression would be the Word was before God:

John 1:1    In the beginning was the Word and...
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning..................God made the heavens and the earth

Of course John does not permit the reader to reach that conclusion because he immediately continues using the imperfect to convey an internal aspect, expressed not as action but as relationship with God:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 This One was in the beginning with God.

Verse 2 completes a single thought (more below) which begins with three statements about the Word linked with καὶ before closing with a fourth statement without καὶ. Given the context, the use of the imperfect suggests John's καὶ is explicative,2which is better understood to mean "that is" and may be illustrated using Wallace's template:

enter image description here

The internal aspect of the imperfect focuses on the relationship between the Word and God. All are "in the beginning" before any mention of creation. Only after establishing the relationship between the Word and God does John write about things and man. In doing so he effectively "envelops" the creative work of the Genesis account:

Gen 1:1a   In the beginning...
John 1:1   In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God
John 1:2   This was in the beginning with God...
Gen 1:1b   ...............................God made the heavens and the earth
Gen 1:2-31 The first six days
John 1:3   All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made
John 1:4   In Him was life and the life was the light of men

To the extent John had Genesis in mind, one concludes he used verse 3 to summarize Genesis 1b-31. Then he spoke not of the seventh day, but of the life and light, or light and life of men3symbolic of the Sabbath which is eternal (e.g. Exodus 31:13).

The Aorist and Perfect
The imperfect ἦν is not used exclusively in 1:1-4 and to appreciate how it is used its placement among the other verbs must be considered: enter image description here

In the Majority and Received Text the tense shifts in verse 3, interrupting the uses which otherwise would flow logically through verse 4:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 This One was in the beginning with God...4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind [or, In Him was life, and the light was the life of mankind]. [DLNT]

As seen above, verse 3, which describes creation, has been "inserted" such that the train of thought is interrupted. The insertion is composed with the aorist and the perfect:

The force of the perfect is simply that it describes an event that, completed in the past (we are speaking of the perfect indicative here), has results existing in the present (i.e., in relation to the time of the speaker). BDF suggests that the perfect tense "combines in itself, so to speak, the present and the aorist in that it denotes the continuance of completed action." It is incorrect, however, to say that the perfect signifies abiding results; such conclusions belong to the realm of theology, not grammar.4
enter image description here

Romans has an example showing how creation in the past remains active in the present:

Because the thing known of God is evident in them, for God made it evident to them. For His invisible things— both His eternal power and divine-nature— are clearly-seen, being understood since the creation of the world in the things made, so that they are without-excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

Things made have results existing in the present. The results are God's eternal power and divine nature which are not "things" as such, and yet which are clearly seen and leave man without excuse (to know there is a God with eternal power having a divine nature).

John employs the same sequence. What came into being (ἐγένετο - aorist) has results existing in the present (γέγονεν - perfect). He too has a two-fold conclusion: the Word which was God, was both the life and light and the light and life of men. There is a difference though. Romans says the created world is still testifying about God, but John's conclusion in the imperfect implies those are in the past. This is not contradictory because the Word will become flesh. Historically, the Word as the light and life of men is in the past because the Word was coming into the world. John claims it is this Gospel which now leaves men without excuse (John 20:31).

Additional Uses
Because John continues to use the imperfect after verse 4, it necessary to consider how those fit within the overall structure. As Wallace states, "occasionally it portrays time other than the past..." This may justify a different reading of 1:1-4, as noted in this answer (emphasis added):

The Greek word is ην. It is also found at J 1:10. In verse 9, the Word is coming into the world. Then in 10, he was (ην) the world. His being in the world did not precede his arrival. If we apply this to J 1:1, he did not precede the beginning.

This argument is straight forward. If comparing vv. 8-10 and 14 to v. 1, the imperfect cannot mean the Word was not present before the beginning. Here is the use in question:

8 That one was not the Light, but came in order that he might testify concerning the Light — 9 the true Light which gives-light-to every person was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came-into-being through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own things, and His own ones did not accept Him.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory— glory as of the only-born from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The apparent contradictory use is resolved by considering the overall structure which as Marie-Émile Boismard diagrammed, "forms a sort of parabola:"5

(a) The Word  1-2      ●             ● 18  The Son in  (a')
    with God.                              the Father
(b) His role of 3       ●           ● 17   Role of re- (b')
    creation                               creation
(c) Gift to men  4-5     ●         ● 16    Gift to men (c')
(d) Witness of J-B 6-8    ●       ● 15  Witness of J-B (d')
(e) The coming of the  9-11 ●   ● 14  The Incarnation  (e')
    Word into the World
                              ●
                           (12-13)
  (f) By the Incarnate Word we become children of God

Others would call Boismard's structure a chiasm, but his term was "construction by envelopment"6 because it mirrored the actual events:

...it becomes possible to grasp the internal movement which animates the whole Prologue: the thought leaves God, as so to return to God, after touching the earth. The Word was in God, with God; then he comes towards us men...He seems to detach himself from God who sends him forth, progressively, as if he intends to accustom men, little by little to his presence. Once he has come upon earth he communicates to us that divine life which makes us children of God; that is the centre of the Prologue, the bond of the New Alliance that the Word has come to tighten between God and men, Then the Word, called henceforward the only-begotten Son, reascends to the bosom of the Father, drawing us in his wake to lead us to God...7

So everything after the center (vv. 12-13) is about the Word as the Son returning to the Father and, John uses the Gospel to explain how His being in the world did precede His arrival:

Now He said this concerning the Spirit, Whom the ones having believed in Him were going to receive. For the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (7:39)

And now Father, You glorify Me with Yourself with the glory which I was having with You before the world was. (17:5)

“Father, as to what You have given to Me, I desire that those ones also may be with Me where I am, in order that they may be seeing My glory which You have given to Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (17:24)

The glory John beheld (1:14) was the Word resurrected in the flesh who dwelt among them (Chapter 21). They saw the only-born of the Father, the only one the Father raised to life who was full of grace and truth.

The use of the imperfect to describe the Word before His crucifixion (vv. 8-11) and the aorist after (v. 14) are the proper tenses. Using Wallace's examples, the imperfect is the motion picture of His life on earth before death and the aorist is a snapshot of His life on earth after Resurrection. And what was (8-11) has been eternally replaced when it was resurrected in the flesh.

Conclusion
In the beginning was the Word... uses the imperfect as Wallace says to grammaticalize time and means the Word was, and is, eternal. After all, is necessarily predates was. That is, unless the Word first is, it cannot be described as "was."

However, after this the imperfect is more often used to emphasize relationship, not time. The Word was with God; the Word was God; in Him was life; life was light and life; He was the true light; this was He of whom I spoke; He was not the light.

There are only three places where time is the primary meaning:

1a: In the beginning was the Word...
10: He was in the world, and the world came-into-being through Him,
    and the world did not know Him.
15: John testifies concerning Him, and has cried-out saying,
    “This One was the One of Whom I said, ‘The One coming after me 
    has become ahead of me, because He was before me’”. 

In each of these three, the time element which is present is consistent with the Word's existence "in the beginning." The world which came into being through Him, means He was before the world. The life of John the Baptist (cf. Luke 1) shows "He was before me," means the same since John was conceived before Jesus.

The internal aspect or process of action of "was", is essentially speaking about relationship when the subject is the Word. Therefore the force of the imperfect throughout the Prologue is one which the Word is eternal both in time and in relationship with God.

This is made specific at the end of the Prologue:

θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο

ὢν is the present participle and ἦν is the imperfect of εἰμί which is to be, to exist.... The Word which was in verse 1 is the μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν, the only-begotten God, The One Who Is, in verse 18. That which "was" is "The One Who Is" because He was in the beginning, the Word.


Notes:
1. Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, Zondervan, 2000, p. 232-233
2. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 495
3. "Here the article with both ζωη — zōē and πως — phōs makes them interchangeable." Robinson's Word Pictures of the New Testament The life was the light of men and the light was the life of men are both possible.
4. Wallace, pp. 247-248
5. M. E. Boismard, O.P. St. John's Prologue, translated by Carisbrooke Dominicans, Newman Press, 1957, p. 80
6. Ibid., p. 79.
7. Loc. cit.

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I would like to start with John 1:2 first instead of John 1:1. It says, "He/Logos or literally "This one" Please note the definite article has been supplied. The actual Greek is en arche-that is, "in beginning." The "Word/Logos of God" was there before the creation of the space-mass-time of the universe.

This means that John's "beginning" even antecedes the Genesis "beginning," extending without an initial beginning into eternity past, even before time was created. To back this up we have the words of Jesus at John 17:24 where in His humanity He was with the Father, and loved by the Father, before the foundation of the world.

Revelation also backs this up where it says, "The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." That Greek word for beginning is "arche" and we get our English word architect from that word. What does an architect do? He designs or creates and is the origin/originator of the plans for something. As a side not the Jehovah Witnesses latch on to this verse to prove that Jesus is a created being, don't believe it.

Now, John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 start out with the same three words, "In the beginning." Yet the main thought in Genesis 1:1 is on WHAT HAPPENED in the beginning. At John 1:1 the emphasis is on WHO EXISTED in the beginning. And since God is eternal and has no beginning we can confidently say from John 1:2 that the Logos/Word/That one was with Him all along.

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  • Am I allowed to ask why I received a negative rating on what I posted? If something I said is unbiblical I would like to know so I can change my position. I am always open to correction. Thank You! – Mr. Bond Nov 19 '19 at 14:39
  • I upvoted your down vote and brought you back to zero. While I don't feel my question was answered by your post, I don't think you post is worthy of a down vote. – The Votive Soul Nov 20 '19 at 3:10
  • Mr. Bond, you might consider editing your post to make it more thorough, with links or quotes from accurate sources. Perhaps you should also delete your shot at JW's, too. It doesn't add to the discussion. – The Votive Soul Nov 20 '19 at 3:11
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While Daniel B. Wallace explained ἦν is how one would write that the word existed before creation, the most significant way John expressed this is by contrasting ἦν with the verb ἐγένετο (v3, v6). The word was while creation became and John the Baptist, a created being, became. John made a distinction with these contrasting verbs used together in the prolog.

Three times in this sentence John uses this imperfect of εἰμι [eimi] to be which conveys no idea of origin for God or for the Logos, simply continuous existence. Quite a different verb (ἐγενετο [egeneto], became) appears in verse 14 for the beginning of the Incarnation of the Logos. See the distinction sharply drawn in 8:58 “before Abraham came (γενεσθαι [genesthai]) I am” (εἰμι [eimi], timeless existence). -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 1:1). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

Note that the Word was appears four times in verses one and two, the imperfect of duration, but 1:3 ἐγένετο (egeneto, a second person aorist form) connotes “came into being” as over against the Word who, on his divine side, did not begin, evolve, or maturate. -- Bryant, B. H., & Krause, M. S. (1998). John (Jn 1:3). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

Was—Not became [ἐγέvετο, comp. vers. 6 and 14] the Son of God, a κτίσμα, as Arianism taught. (Comp. Prov. 8:23; Sirach 24:3.) It cannot be said, He might have become, or been made, before the beginning; for becoming and beginning are inseparable. -- Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (p. 54). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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Yes, Yeshua (Jesus) is the "λόγος", Strong's Gr. 3056, Logos - the Word that was with YHWH before Genesis 1:1. He was not created. He is the Creator!

Excerpt from Thayer's Greek Lexicon Definition III:

"In several passages in the writings of John ὁ λόγος denotes the essential Word of God, i. e. the personal (hypostatic) wisdom and power in union with God, his minister in the creation and government of the universe, the cause of all the world's life both physical and ethical, which for the procurement of man's salvation put on human nature in the person of Jesus the Messiah and shone forth conspicuously from his words and deeds: John 1:1, 14; (1 John 5:7 Rec.); with τῆς ζωῆς added (see ζωή, 2 a.), 1 John 1:1; τοῦ Θεοῦ, Revelation 19:13 ..." Source: BIblehub

>"26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: ..." (Gen. 1:26, KJV)

Some attempt to argue that the use of the plural "us" and "our" in Gen. 1:26 is the form of the majestic and kingly "we" which began to be used in the late 12th century England to encompass all of the titles and several powers of the monarchy. But, this was not used in the Hebrew.

Excerpt from Barne's Notes on Gen. 1:26 -

"The plural form of the sentence raises the question, With whom took he counsel on this occasion? Was it with himself, and does he here simply use the plural of majesty? Such was not the usual style of monarchs in the ancient East. Pharaoh says, "I have dreamed a dream" Genesis 41:15. Nebuchadnezzar, "I have dreamed" Daniel 2:3. Darius the Mede, "I make a decree" Daniel 6:26. Cyrus, "The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth" Ezra 1:2. Darius, "I make a decree" Ezra 5:8. We have no ground, therefore, for transferring it to the style of the heavenly King. Was it with certain other intelligent beings in existence before man that he took counsel? This supposition cannot be admitted; because the expression "let us make" is an invitation to create, which is an incommunicable attribute of the Eternal One, and because the phrases, "our image, our likeness," when transferred into the third person of narrative, become "his image, the image of God," and thus limit the pronouns to God himself. Does the plurality, then, point to a plurality of attributes in the divine nature? This cannot be, because a plurality of qualities exists in everything, without at all leading to the application of the plural number to the individual, and because such a plurality does not warrant the expression, "let us make." Only a plurality of persons can justify the phrase. ..." Source: Biblehub

Paul stated it clearly in Colossians chap. 1.

"12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." (Col. 1:12-17, KJV)

The first born of every creature being the first fruits, or the first of the resurrection from the dead (Rev. 1:5). It is not speaking of the physical, miraculous manifestation of His earthly nature. That was a temporary step down from His heavenly position as the I AM. The resurrection from the dead, having accomplished the redeeming task of providing the opportunity (grace) for man's salvation, and His ascension (Acts 1:9) to the heavenly throne of God being restored to the Father, His status as both Priest and King of the everlasting kingdom of YHWH.... the great I AM.

"...I am the God of thy father, ... And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, (Ex. 3:6,8 KJV)

"14 And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you." (Ex. 3:14, KJV)

"10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.

11 I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour." (Isa. 43:10-11, KJV)

"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58, KJV)

The pre-existing, continual being of God from before time to the everlasting, our Messiah is not a created being, but the Creator of all things.

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  • Hi, Gina Thanks for responding, but, you will notice, I didn't ask anything about Jesus, or Christology. Mine was a point about grammar, specifically regarding the imperfect indicative active, third person singular of the Greek verb εἰμί, which you didn't really address. – The Votive Soul Oct 15 '19 at 21:18
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Votive Soul,

You asked:

If this understanding is correct, does this then mean that the Λόγος was already existing when the beginning began? That is to say, the Λόγος predates the "beginning", that is, all that John 1:1-4 states regarding the Λόγος was an already active state of existence prior to the "beginning", i.e. prior to Genesis 1:1?

Yes !

A.T. Robertson in his Greek Grammar states regarding the imperfect:

(b) The Descriptive Tense in Narrative. But the linear action may be insisted on in the true imperfect. It is properly "nichtpunktuell." Though less frequent in Homer than the aorist it often "divides the crown with the aorist."3 The imperfect is here a sort of moving panorama, a "moving-picture show."

Robert Funk in his Greek Grammar states:

790.2 The imperfect indicates action in progress in past time, like all imperfects.

Spiros Zodhiates in the grammatical notations in his Complete Word Study New Testament, states of the imperfect:

The imperfect refers to continuous or linear action in past time.

So, for John, who writes EN ARCHE (whatever one understands that to stand for) HN (the imperfect of something being)...there in that realm, that sphere if you will, EN ARCHE, there had already been existing and was existing hO LOGOS.

So I would suggest again the answer to your question is yes, hO LOGOS was already existing there within the sphere of ARCHE.

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