“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 NKJV Can someone please explain this verse?
This is not just a repeat of verse nine. John now emphasizes the mode by which the Word came into the world. The Word had not just simply come into the world. He had done this before on many occasions as seen in the OT theophanies. He is not merely appearing AS flesh as he did to Abraham in Genesis 18 and to Jacob in Genesis 32. This time he becomes flesh through the prenatal process. “Became flesh” must be recognized as a change of status. Such a change of status was not part of the previous theophanies. This is not just another theophonic manifestation, this is different. Now, the Word has become one of us. The Word was not simply transferred into the body of a man named Jesus to dwell in that body, rather, the Word himself became the man. This is a metamorphoses, not an indwelling. There is a transformation of form and substance. Every thought in this chapter is dedicated to the realization of this one statement – “The Word became flesh.” This is the pivotal statement of John 1.
The Birth or The Resurrection?
The Prologue (1-18) is seen as describing the Word who was with God, coming to earth, and returning to the Father and so the Word became flesh is easily understood as referring to the birth of Jesus. This "movement" of the Word was first described in Isaiah:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55 ESV)
Some see the overall structure of the Prologue follows a chiastic structure. In particular, Marie-Émile Boismard observed the structure and the movement portrayed in Isaiah makes what he termed "construction by envelopment"
1 which could be diagrammed as a parabola:
The Prologue seems thus to describe a parabola, the base of which touches the earth and the two sides of which are lost in God's infinity. In the course of this double movement, descending and ascending, we meet the same symmetrical landmarks, the most noticeable being the mention of the testimony the Baptist bears to Christ (vv.6-8, 15)
Boismard identified verse 14 as "the Incarnation" which he explains as becoming human:
The Word has become flesh in the sense that he has come upon earth, clothing himself with a humanity like our own.
Yet "clothing Himself in flesh" meaning His birth in verse 14, leaves the earlier presence of the Word in verses 9-11 "out of place" and "out of sequence" as can be seen when his structure is divided between the ascending and descending movements of the Word:
The Word With God is Sent | The Word Returns To The Father -------------------------------------------------------------- (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
Semantically, the phrase ὁ λόγος is used only at the beginning of a movement:
The Word was with God (1:1) "He" Descends and becomes human (1:3-11) Accomplishes its purpose (1:12-13) The Word becomes flesh (1:14) and returns (1:14-17) The only begotten God is with the Father (1:18)
When the structure is evenly divided the "Incarnation" reflects His returning to the Father as both in the flesh and in glory, which means after His death (see below). This suggests verse 14 is speaking about the Resurrected Word and verses 9-11 His life before Crucifixion.
This understanding harmonizes the semantics and literary structure. It also agrees with the change in tense from the imperfect before His crucifixion (9-11) to the aorist after (14). Daniel B. Wallace illustrates the difference by saying the imperfect is like a motion picture and the aorist a snapshot.
5 So the longer period on earth uses verbs comparable to a motion picture and the shorter period, is a snapshot before He completes His ascent by returning to His Father.
Interpreting "the Word became flesh..." as descriptive of Jesus' after the Resurrection in no way denies any aspect of His birth in Matthew or Luke. With Isaiah in mind, it is fair to say the Fourth Gospel assumes the birth and early years narrative in Luke which end by giving the purpose "the Word" was sent:
And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) [NKJV]
The Word was sent to the world with a purpose but the world did not know Him and His own did not accept Him. Why not? Because, although He was the true light (1:9), he arrived without the glory He had from before the world was; glory which was restored after He was crucified:
But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (7:39)
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You...glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was...“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (17:1, 5, 24)
Jesus prayed that the glory He had before the world, would be restored and that all believers would be able to behold (θεωρέω) that glory. Behold here means, "of the spiritual perception of the one sent by God, which is poss. only to the believer."
6 θεωρέω is from θεάομαι, the word used in 1:14 which means, "to perceive something above and beyond what is merely seen with the eye."
7 Thus John wrote he beheld the glory of the physically resurrected Word which those who believe what he wrote may behold (an answer to Jesus' prayer).
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Interpreting "the Word became flesh..." as descriptive of Jesus after the Resurrection emphasizes that Jesus had a physical body before His death and after His Resurrection. That is, His entire earthly existence was neither a semblance nor a spirit which occupied the body of another person. This refutes Docetism's explanation of His divinity. It also means His body is present as the Church and has replaced the Temple as the place for worship:
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. (John 2:19-21)
By specifically saying flesh John affirms the body in general and the flesh in particular. This answers the question raised in the Bread of Life Discourse and affirms its Eucharist message:
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6)
How can Jesus give us His flesh to eat? By experiencing death and being raised from death. So the Word became (ἐγένετο) flesh also contrasts with Genesis 2:7 where the first man became (ἐγένετο) a living being:
For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
"Dwelt among us" refers to the period of time between the Resurrection and His ascending into heaven. This also strengthens seeing Chapter 21 as purposeful to the original work. In other words, the events are purposeful to show the Resurrected Jesus dwelt among them.
When John says "we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father..." he uses the first person plural pronoun (as in dwelt among us). This speaks to the eyewitnesses who saw the Resurrected Word who is the only-begotten of the Father. That is, everyone else who is raised to life will be a work of the Word (cf. 6:39, 40, 44, 54)
Lastly, full of grace and truth describes the experience of those who saw the Resurrected Christ:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)
16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17)
1. M. E. Boismard, O.P. St. John's Prologue, translated by Carisbrooke Dominicans, Newman Press, 1957, p. 79
2. Ibid., p. 73
3. Ibid., p. 47
4. Ibid., p. 80
5. Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, Zondervan, 2000, p. 232
6. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 454
7. Ibid., p. 445-446
8. Additionally, when Chapter 21 is original, the message of Resurrection is found in the beginning and end, and Chapter 11 (the middle of the work) where Lazarus is raised from the dead. In this case the chiastic elements of resurrection to eternal life of the Word in the beginning and end contrast with the physical resurrection of Lazarus.