The problem: The grammar of John 1:1-4, especially in our critical editions of the Greek text give substantial reason to view the Word as having received his very life in the beginning. However many see this text as proof the Word never had a beginning. Many argue that if all created things are through the Word that he cannot have been created. But the text says that his very life is not included in what came about through his intermediate agency (Greek δια) and that what came to be in him was life with him as instrument (Greek εν).

Question: Since the Word received life in John 1:3-4 per the UBS Greek text, can the prologue also support the Word was eternal?

John 1:3-4 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The UBS and Nestle Aland Greek texts all punctuate with a full stop after “being.” The question assumes the modern critical editions are correct.

The word “through” is δια and refers to what God made through the Word as His intermediate agent. The word “in” is εν and refers to what God made using the Word as His "instrument ."

Thus what was made "through" the Son (all things) and what was made "in" the Son (life) are two different agencies and two different things.

What has come to be "in" him was "life" at John 1:4 is classified with John 5:26 by BDAG 1 with "For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in (εν) himself" (KJV)

The Lutheran BDAG is quoted for support, not for proof. The proof is in the Greek of our best modern critical editions.

Consider the Greek syntax of John 1:3-4.

The syntax of John 1:3-4 in our critical editions demonstrates that life was not merely “in” the Word but came to be “in” the Word.

1:1 Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο ⸂οὐδὲ ἕν⸃. ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ⸀ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς ⸋τῶν ἀνθρώπων⸌· (John 1-3-4 Nestle-Aland 28)

The phrase is: ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, That which came to be in him was life. (ὃ=What; γέγονεν= came to be; ἐν αὐτῷ= in him; ζωὴ ἦν = was life)

Note that ἦν is the same verb used in John 1:1. γέγονεν is the verb γίνομαι used substantively. γίνομαι is always used of a change and the imperfect aspect of the stative to-be verb ην has a continuous aspect.

When the verbal aspect of γινομαι is combined with the verbal aspect of ην, one sees the beginning of ἦν but there is no end. John demonstrated this very elegantly in J 1:3-4. Life came to be “in” the Word and then he “was.”

The verb ἦν has a similar use at John 1:10. The Word was coming into the world (1:9) and then was (ἦν) in the world. The beginning of the state of being in the world is clearly visible.

This is supported by the BDAG entry which says that Christ received life from God at John 1:4 and 5:26.

Thus there is abundant linguistic evidence to support the view that the Word "received life from God" and became a living being in John 1:4a as the same author uses the same term in the same book about the same person at John 5:26 and 1:4.

Since the Word received his life in John 1:4 is there any reason to argue that John viewed him as not having a beginning from the prologue?

1 BDAG "life"---β. of Christ, who received life fr. God J 5:26b (ἡ ζωὴ τῆς πίστεως ParJer 9:14). ἐν αὐτῷ ζ. ἦν 1:4a; cp. 1J 5:11b. He is the ἀρχηγὸς τ. ζωῆς Ac 3:15, the λόγος τ. ζωῆς 1J 1:1; cp. vs. 2, the ἄρτος τ. ζωῆς J 6:35, 48; cp. vs. 33 (EJanot, Le pain de vie: Gregorianum 11, 1930, 161- 70), also simply ζωή 11:25; 14:6 or ἡ ζ. ὑμῶν Col 3:4; cp. B 2, 10; IMg 9:1. Since the life in him was τὸ φῶς τ. ἀνθρώπων J 1:4b, people through following him obtain τὸ φῶς τ. ζωῆς 8:12 (on the combination of light and life cp. 1QS 3, 7 and the Orph. Hymns to Helios no. 8, 18 Qu. ζωῆς φῶς, as well as Christian ins of Rome [Ramsay, Luke the Physician 1908 p. 375, 238 AD], where a father calls his dead son γλυκύτερον φωτὸς καὶ ζοῆς; s. also α above).— SBartina, La vida como historia en J 1:1-18, Biblica 49, ’68, 91-9

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:53
  • 1
    " The question assumes the modern critical editions are correct." There is no punctuation in the ancient manuscripts: they aren't part of the New Testament. Also, "all things were made by him, and without him was made nothing made" is clearly preferable and conformable to the top-down context of God-to-man grace in Jesus than, "all things were made by him, and without him was made nothing at all: what came to be in him was life." As if the Word through which the Father made all needed the provision of life Himself. Who denies that here life refers to salvation and eternal life? Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 21:33
  • " Part of it does. The BDAG entry does not." It? Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 22:46
  • John 1:4 doesn't say Christ received life Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 0:29
  • 1
    In the question you have USB. I think you mean UBS. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 3:52

2 Answers 2



In these contexts, no deductive/inductive inferences can reasonably be made about who "the Word" received life from, or whether it was eternally existing.

John 5:26, NKJV - For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself …

John 5 only speaks of the "gift to impart life"—which is very different from the "gift of life". And although John 5 seems to suggest that the gift of "impartable life" was given by God to the Word, both John 5 and John 1, are still silent about where the pre-existent "Word" received life from.

These contexts state that the Word has the ability to impart life, but other contexts more clearly address the question whether the Word itself received life or was eternally existent, (like Proverbs 8 and the Wisdom of God).

Linguistic support could be argued if Active Voice verbs performed by God could be found in these contexts:

First and foremost, "The Most High" would have to be referred to as the "actor/agent" of some action, (active voice of a verb), and The Word as the recipient. But, no reference to God occurs in this context where the Word is the recipient of any action by God.

Linguistically, there is no indication of any other actor, (active voice), other than the Logos/Word. Though, the Logos does act upon himself. So, it is unreasonable, (invalid), to use this context in support of any argument whether the Logos/Word received life from God, or not. (Proverbs 8 would be better suited). However, John 1:14 comes pretty close, but it only goes as far as to state that the Logos/Word gave himself a body of flesh, (not necessarily "life").

John 5's reference to Jesus having life in himself, from God, is not indicating that Jesus' own life was from God. John is just stating that the ability to impart life was from God.

John 5:26, NKJV - For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself …

Linguistic support is not present with references to The Word with passive voice verbs:

The only possible stretch to indicate that the Logos/Word received life (passive voice) would be to find passive verbs to show that something, anything, acted upon "The Logos"—which never happens in this context, (though in Proverbs 8, definitely).

In the linguistic sense, the "Logos/Word" is consistently the actor in imparting life, (not the passive recipient). In order to argue that the "Logos" was granted, or received, life, you would have to show verb conjugations supporting this: verbs of the Logos' actions in the passive voice.

But, in this close context, there are no verb indications, (neither passive, nor active), of "The Most High" taking any action upon "The Logos".

Middle Voice Evidence, but not Sufficient:

Instead, this text shows the Logos acting upon himself, (Middle voice, not necessarily active nor passive).

The closest this context comes to the Logos not being the primary actor is in John 1:14. But, the verb "became" is in the middle voice, not passive:

NASB, John 1:14 - And the Word became [middle voice, neither active nor passive] flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The middle voice of "became" indicates that the Logos even gave himself flesh, showing that there is no other being "acting" upon "The Logos".

That the Logos gave himself a body of flesh is pretty compelling evidence that the writer, in this context, was focused on establishing the divine nature of The Logos, rather than trying to state anything about "The Most High" or what role they played.

Other Passages Regarding Whether the Logos was Given Life:

It is linguistically and logically invalid to suggest that either John 1, or John 5 speaks to the contention whether The Word was a created being or not.

However, there are other passages that address this.

Thematically/Contextually, (in terms of Logos and the Wisdom of God), you could go back to Proverbs 8, etc., to find the parallel of the Wisdom of God (Logos), creating all things, and also that this Wisdom was the first of God's creations.

But, that is certainly a different question.

Comment Clarification: A comment by the OP seemed to claim that BDAG suggests that John 1 supports a view that Christ received life from God. I believe this is a misinterpretation of the Lexicon. But Even if the lexicon were interpreted this way, it is an overreach of what a lexicon is supposed to do: which is only to state where references to "life" are occurring, and in what sense. This is all BDAG seems to be saying. So, the presupposition behind the [original] question seems mistaken—lexicons aren't intended to be used as reliable/authoritative "commentary".


Historical Reading
The original manuscripts were not punctuated. Thus punctuation is interpretation not textual authority.1However, before punctuation was used, Christians and non-Christians wrote about what had been written. From these writings it is possible to determine how a passage was read. The history of punctuating verse 3 can be divided into three general periods:

Early Church Writings: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν
4th Century - 1960's:  πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν
Current Critical Text: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν

This reflects the predominant reading but even in the earliest period, as today, both were used. The return to the early reading was explained by Kurt Aland2in the release of NA 26. He showed the change was for doctrinal reasons and the present reading was most likely the "original."

The doctrinal issues were the persistent misinterpretation by the Gnostics, then the Valentinians, and then the Arians who used ὃ γέγονεν with verse 4 to wrongly interpret the phrase:

What has begun to be in him (the Word) was (his) life...

This interpretation was contrary to Christian doctrine. For example, Ambrose (c. 340-397) wrote against the Arians saying they ignored, "In the beginning..." which he said states unequivocally the Logos was God, and so verse (4) itself speaks to what was made in him."3Elsewhere he contested their interpretation by quoting Paul:

  1. The most part of those who are learned in the Faith read the passage as follows: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that has been made." Others read thus: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made." Then they proceed: "What has been made," and to this they join the words "in Him;" that is to say, "But whatsover is has been made in Him." But what mean the words "in Him?" The Apostle tells us, when he says: "In Him we have our being, and live, and move."4

This particular response is significant as it shows both readings were used by the Church which means this is an inherent aspect of the original text (see below) and Ambrose showed how the Arian interpretation was contrary to what Paul taught:5

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28) [ESV]

If both readings are possible, then ὃ γέγονεν is another example of John's use of verbs in their double meaning.6The double meaning in this case is necessary because life must come from that which is alive. Unlike the inanimate world which could be created simply by speech, life must come from that which is alive. In other words, God is living so life originates in Him and then flows through Him (see below).

The Post-Creation Answer
The Church's debate with the heretics was on the issue of creation and so those like Ambrose contested a mythological history of creation. Modern day attacks on the eternal nature of the Word typically approach the issue from the position the deity of the Word is contrary to what the Bible says about God elsewhere. In this case, the answer, to the eternal nature of the Word, as Ambrose showed, is found in Paul's speech to the Athenians:

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17)

The God who created is the Lord of heaven and earth: Jesus Christ. He made those who are Gentiles and those who are Jewish; He determined the boundaries of the land given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As John says, without him was not one thing made. Thus the Old Testament is a record of the work of the Word to bring salvation to His creation.

From the standpoint of Biblical history, the Word created life and continued to work until the Word became flesh and was put to death. Nevertheless, today, on the basis of having given Himself for us and having been raised to life, He has life in Him and so is still the source and means through which man obtains eternal life. Therefore, Biblical history confirms the Word is the Eternal One who is always at work to bring eternal life to that which He made.

Flexible and Inflexible Readings
If a text may be read in two ways, then the writer must have been aware of this but failed to force the text to be read in one specific way.

A: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν
   [καὶ] ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων

B: πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν
   [καὶ] ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων

As the autograph was continuous, the reader has the decision where one thought stops and the next starts. Yet as shown above, the writer could have prevented this. Therefore, it is apparent the text has been constructed to give the reader the flexibility to choose either or even both readings (as Ambrose stated).7

Despite flexibility, verse 4 is consistent with the other Gospels and links life and light:

Thus the translation runs: 'What has begun to be, in him (the Word) is life.' In other words, all created life has its origins and source in the Word of God. This tallies perfectly with the Gospels: when Christ is said to possess life it is always with reference to the life he gives to creatures and especially to men.

...life had its origins in the Word, but it is envisaged as a state that is participated, and therefore created. But in the next phrase: 'And the life is the light of men,' if we understand the 'light of men' as being the Word of God himself, life is identified with light, the life is no longer of the created order but uncreated.7

In addition to connecting life and light, the writer employed a grammatical technique by which the reader is required to understand two equivalent statements:8

A:  ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
A': ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ τὸ φῶς ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

B:  ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
B': ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ τὸ φῶς ἦν ἡ ζωὴ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

However the text begins, it ends requiring both understandings of life and light. This inflexible reading (another of John's double meanings) is an undisputed statement in the original text which also affirms the eternal nature of the Word.

The life was the light... (ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς) logically makes life the subject and light the attribute. The light was the life... (τὸ φῶς ἦν ἡ ζωὴ) reverses the order: light is the subject and life the attribute. This equivalent statement (from the writer), functions to introduce what Jesus will say about Himself and follows the sequence in Genesis, and what is revealed in Isaiah:

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)

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

Therefore, regardless of how a reader chooses to place ὃ γέγονεν, ...the light was the of life of men, means the Word was the source of life for men and is the source of eternal life for men. It is the writer who says the Word was eternal and is the source of eternal life; which is a restatement of how he began the Prologue and the reason given for writing the Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

Through - δι᾽...In - ἐν
The necessity of the flexible reading ὃ γέγονεν is essential to separate men from everything else which was created: it functions like punctuation by limiting how this passage may be understood if the reader looks to the Biblical record of the creation of man:

And God formed the man dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul. (LXX-Genesis 2:7)
καὶ ἔπλασεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον χοῦν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐνεφύσησεν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πνοὴν ζωῆς καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν

If John had not separated man from things made through the Word, then verses 3-4 could be used to say the Word was Himself created:

Wrong: The LORD God ---> The Breath of Life [through the Word] ---> The first man
Right: The Breath of life [in the Word] ---> The first man

ὃ γέγονεν functions as a "hard stop" between δι᾽and ἐν, clearly dividing that which was through and that which was in. Whatever flexibility the reader has, when taken with the Old Testament this shows life in man did not come through the Word. Rather, the breath of life was in the Word who breathed life into the man.

1. Ed. L. Miller, Salvation-History in the Prologue of John: The significance of John 1:3/4, E. J. Brill, 1989, p. 39
2. NET Bible Translator note 7
3. In Psalmum XXXVI, 35
4. St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book III, 593 Chapter 6
5. Paul likely was quoting Epimenides of Crete, but his point is Biblically correct (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:3, 2:10, Revelation 4:11).
6. Oscar Cullmann, Early Christian Worship, Wyndham Hall Press, Reproduced from SCM Press, LTD. 1953, p. 41
7. Some manuscripts like the 5th/6th century Codex Bezae appears to punctuate before and after ὃ γέγονεν.
8. M. E. Boismard, O.P. St. John's Prologue, translated by Carisbrooke Dominicans, Newman Press, 1957, p. 17
9. The article with both zwh and pw makes them interchangeable. "The light was the life of men" is also true. Robinson's Word Pictures of the New Testament

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    @ThomasPearne Your position is also without proof Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 20:53
  • @RevelationLad - I feel that you are mixing metaphors here, "the light" that is spoken appears to be a metaphor of a type of life, (or quality of life), not a literal "light" like the literal light that the context of Genesis 1 refers to. The part that I am most unclear on is after this, (I guess?), you seem to be suggesting a conclusion that since/if "life/light of men" was present, (and necessary), for literal light to be created, then it must have existed eternally with God. I feel that this is non-sequitor, (missing a few steps, logically). Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 3:37

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