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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 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.

  • 1
    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
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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.

  • 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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The short answer is no. I will expand.

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.

In addition, the word και (and) found at J 1:1 is said by Danker in his Concise Greek concordance to have the sense of “and so.”

In the beginning was the Word, and so the Word was with God and so the Word was θεός.

If Fred Danker is correct, the three states are consecutive and not simultaneous. They build on each other.

So one may not say that in the beginning the Word was already θεός, or even that the Word was already “with” God.

This opens the text to the possibility that as Jesus is the beginning of creation at Re 3:14, J 1:1 is the beginning of the Word.

Athanasius actually held a belief that the Word was in the Father and then became personal being at J 1:1. He does say that this happened before “time” so that the Word could be eternal. But that has nothing to do with preceding the beginning.

  • Hi, Thomas. Thanks for responding. What I am trying to get at with the question is whether or not the Logos came into being at the start of the "beginning", or was the Logos already existing when this "beginning" began? – The Votive Soul Jan 9 at 3:33
  • In my opinion that is why he is called the beginning of creation at Re 3:14, so yes. – Thomas Pearne Jan 9 at 3:35
  • @RevelationLad Lots of ways. Greek is very expressive and precise. "before the beginning" is what you really need. And since God is not "in" the beginning something like "Before the beginning were the Word and God." – Thomas Pearne Jan 28 at 20:10
  • @RevelationLad You don't have "beginning." It is "In the beginning" which is also temporal/locative. – Thomas Pearne Jan 28 at 20:45
  • @RevelationLad You assume it is the same beginning. Job 38 says angelic sons of God were there when the foundation of the earth were made. All the sons of God shouted. That includes the μονογενές. – Thomas Pearne Jan 28 at 21:05
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Summary
Yes. The the Word was before the beginning. This conveyed in several ways:

  • The plain reading of the texts with imperfect tense.
  • The use of allusions to and patterns from Genesis.
  • The literal or grammatical "movement" of the Word in time.
  • The progression of the Word from the beginning to Incarnation.

In addition, the changing tenses in verses 1-5 proclaim the Word is the current active agent of creation and is still shining as light because the darkness could not overcome it.

Background
To begin, the Prologue (John 1:1-18), is a distinct literary unit arranged using a chiastic structure. In his paper, Brad McCoy gives this outline:1

enter image description here

Beyond highlighting the main theme, a chiastic structure "punctuates" a passage by delineating each point the writer makes.2The exact divisions may be debated, but it is clear verse 5 belongs to the opening and an analysis which stops at verse 4 would be incomplete:

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. 3 All things came-into-being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being which has come-into-being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (DLNT)

The imperfect tense is used of "the Word," “God,” "this," "life," and then "light," which is immediately contrasted with darkness. Thus the theme of light and darkness, which will continue throughout the Fourth Gospel has been placed in the opening lines and in an allusion to, if not the context of, creation. Significantly, these are arranged in reverse order they occur in Genesis:

John
 A:  Life (The Word)
  B:  Light (The Word)
   C:  Darkness - antithetical to Light (which is the Word)
Alluding to Creation:
   C': Darkness - antithetical to the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2)
  B': Light (Genesis 1:3-4)
 A': Life (Genesis 1:12, 21, 25, 27)

This is further evidence the writer has only the creation account of Genesis in mind. Also darkness, the antithesis of the Word, alludes to darkness which is contrasted with the Spirit in Genesis 1:2. So, just as the Spirit (and Word) was distinct from darkness in Genesis, the Word (and Spirit) is distinct from darkness in John (cf. 1:32). This implies John understood God as the Trinity and sought to preserve the principles, even in an allusion.

The Imperfect Indicative Tense
Daniel B. Wallace gives this explanation for the imperfect tense:3

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: enter image description here

The creation account in Genesis illustrates the imperfect tense: it is action over a seven-day period which is now in the past. So the Word was in the past and continuously with God during the seven-days; as Wallace says, the imperfect has an internal aspect of action within. Therefore, while verses 1 and 2 say nothing about the present state of the Word, the plain reading of the text places the Word and God in the same relationship at the beginning and throughout creation.

The Perfect and Present Tense
Here is a diagram showing the tense of the verbs used to describe the Word in the opening: enter image description here

John uses the imperfect ἦν six times in the opening. Verse 3 effectively "interrupts" the flow before it resumes in verse 4. This "interruption" serves two purposes. First, it sets apart and summarizes how the Word was with God in the beginning (see below). Second, it functions to keep the Word from being "left in the past" as might be implied by the imperfect tense. Verse 3 begins with two uses of the aorist indicating completed action in the past (corresponding for example with seven-days of creation). It ends with γέγονεν, which is perfect indicative active of γίνομαι.

Of the perfect indicative tense Wallace says:4

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.
enter image description here

The abiding "result" in verse 3 is the current working of the Word: making children of God (the main theme of the Prologue). That is to say, while the workings of the Word "in the beginning" are important; they are secondary to the working of the Word in the present, which is re-creation (cf. John 3:1-21, 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15, Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). The opening verses establish the creative ability of the Word in the past using both the imperfect and aorist, in order to assert the creative ability of the Word in the present.

The imperfect tense resumes in verse 4 but not as the Word directly identified as such. Rather, after first being replaced with the pronoun οὗτος in verse 2, the Word is called by the pronoun αὐτῷ and identified as "the life" and "the light." The use of pronouns to refer to the Word is another literary device to keep the Word "moving forward" in time. Finally, the Word, as the Light is (still) shining (present tense) today because the darkness was unable to overcome (aorist) it in the past. This too is an allusion to the Genesis creation account where "the light" which God saw (1:3-4) was separated from the darkness (also 1:18).

The critical aspect of time is not how things begin; rather it is how things are now. The Word which was in the past is still shining light and still able to create in the present.

"Was" in the Incarnation
While not part of the question on the use of the imperfect tense in the opening verses, this tense is used later in the first description of the Incarnation of the Word:

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. (DLNT)

9ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον 10ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω 11εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον

Reverting to the imperfect tense to describe the Incarnation could effect how ην is intended to be understood in the opening. Thomas Pearne's answer takes note of this:

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.

However, "the Word" here is identified as "the light" and with αὐτός. In a sense it is "picking up" the Word from verse 5, where, as the light of men, it did precede His Incarnation. This may be understood literally as physical light, or more likely, metaphorically as the Word of God (e.g. Exodus 20:1, Psalm 33:6[32:6], 119:130[118:130]). Arguably John is following the point made in the opening of the letter to the Hebrews:

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. [ESV]

The Word was given many times and in many ways: it was in the world before His Incarnation.

The Conjunction
As noted in the answer from Thomas Pearne, the word και (and) found at J 1:1 is said by Danker in his Concise Greek concordance to have the sense of “and so.” This could mean John is referring to three consecutive states which build on one another and correspond to the first three uses of the imperfect tense:

In the beginning was the Word, and so the Word was with God and so the Word was God.

enter image description here

If so, then the first state which lacks God literally means the Word was for a period of time in the past, before God. Then the second state includes God with the article (τὸν θεόν) which the third lacks (θεὸς). The sequence ...τὸν θεόν...θεὸς, which parallels the pattern of the LXX Genesis 1:1-2, reinforces understanding the Word was before Genesis 1 and without God.

The immediate significance of omitting "God" from the first state is seen in state 3: "...the Word was God." Those who deny the equal nature of the Word with God believe the third state is with a god. For example, the New World Translation used by Jehovah Witnesses:

In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. (NWT)

Obviously, this is impossible. The Word cannot be in the beginning without God and later be only "a god." Therefore, the significance of "and so" cannot be to show three states of creation, but does follow the pattern of three separate natures of one God.

This answer to a related question, shows how the fourth use of the imperfect ην does place God "in the beginning:" enter image description here

In the beginning was the Word...this was in the beginning with God.
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος...οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν

The four uses of the imperfect tense may be diagrammed as: enter image description here

Effectively the fourth use of the imperfect serves as a summary:

John 1:2. οὑτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. Not a mere repetition of what has been said in John 1:1. There John has said that the Word was in the beginning and also that He was with God: here he indicates that these two characteristics existed contemporaneously. “He was in the beginning with God.” He wishes also to emphasise this in view of what he is about to tell. In the beginning He was with God, afterwards, in time, He came to be with man. His pristine condition must first be grasped, if the grace of what succeeds is to be understood.

Conclusion
The six uses of the imperfect in the opening mean:

  1. In the beginning the Word was (without God)
  2. The Word was with God (τὸν θεόν)
  3. The Word was God (θεὸς)
  4. In the beginning the Word was with God (τὸν θεόν)
  5. The Word was the life
  6. The Word was the light

While all are written as being in the past, after repeating "in the beginning" the working of the Word is placed in the present by the use of the perfect tense and the light which was in the past, nevertheless is still shining in the present as the darkness was unable to overcome it.


Notes:
1. Brad McCoy, "Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature." p 18 [Chafer Theological Seminary]
2. Ibid., p.29
3. Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, Zondervan, 2000, p. 232-233
4. Ibid., pp. 247-248
5. The Expositors Greek Testament

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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.

  • 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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