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The Fourth Gospel begins:

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. [DLNT]

1 ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος 2 οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν 3 πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν 4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων

The pronoun, αὐτός (αὐτοῦ in 1:3 and αὐτῷ in 1:4) is understood to refer to "the Word." But the closest referent is the noun θεόν, "God" in which case the proper understanding of verses 3-4 is:

3 All things came-into-being through Him [God], and apart from Him [God] not even one thing came into being which has come-into-being. 4 In Him [God] was life, and the life was the light of mankind.

Given that the Old Testament begins "In the beginning God created..." it would seem like the proper monotheistic view is referring to God in verse 2. Of course, if that was John's intention, he might still have the Word in mind:

God:      αὐτῷ (verses 3 & 4) ---> θεόν (verse 2)
The Word: αὐτῷ (verses 3 & 4) ---> θεόν (verse 2)  ---> θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (verse 1c)
The Word: αὐτῷ (verses 3 & 4) ---> αὐτός (verse 2) ---> ὁ λόγος (verse 1a,b,c)

What is the correct referent for the pronouns in verses 3 and 4? Does John mean only "God" as the Creator similar to Genesis? If he means "the Word" does he accomplish this by referring to God in verse who is "the Word who was God" in verse 1? Or by referring to "this" in verse 2 which refers to "the Word" in verse 1?

Another possibility is this is another example of John's "ambiguities" because he has both God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ (the Word) in mind as in Paul's teaching:

yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
(1 Corinthians 8:6)

In other words, created life requires both the Father from who are all things and one Lord Jesus Christ through who all things are and through whom we exist. Therefore "Him" reflects the unity of the God and the Word expressed by the singular αὐτός.

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The simplest way to understand the opening verses of John is to see its simple staircase parallelism as set out below (my translation).

In the beginning was the Word

. And the Word was with [the] God

. . And God was the Word [This is the literal word order but for English it should be reversed]

This one was in the beginning with [the] God

. All things through him became [= came into being]

. . And without him became not one thing

. . . That which became in him was life

. . . . And that life was the light of men

. . . . . And the light in the darkness shines

. . . . . . And the darkness it not grasp.

Thus, it become rather obvious that the whole passage is composed in praise of the Word. The pronouns are

  • Οὗτος (v2) referring to the Word as the immediate proximate;
  • αὐτοῦ (v3 twice) referring to the word;
  • αὐτῷ (v4) referring to the Word, etc.

Thus, the immediate noun before the first pronoun is not God but the Word.

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The pronoun "him", in verses 3 & 4, in all three instances, is in reference to the subject of the sentence and the subject is "the Word", being in the nominative position. The third Theos, at the end of verse 2, as in the case of the first Theos, are both with articular determiners and most definitely refer to the Almighty, but both are in the accusative and therefore objective. At the beginning of verse 2, we have a different kind of determiner in "This one", which is also in the nominative and again has to refer to "the Word", it having come straight after..."and God/god was the Word"... who we are told for the second time, was to be with/toward the Almighty. The status of this second Theos/theos, which is anarthrous and therefore does not have an article/determiner, and is a singular predicate noun and occurs before the verb, points towards the quality of "the Word", rather than "identity" of same, and as such should not be equated with the Almighty. Consequently, the fact that the third objective Theos is the closest referent to the first "him", does not mean that this first "him" is in respect of same. This pronoun, in question, being in the subjective.

As the "prologue" progresses, the "him", as it were, and his undeniable quality, is subjected further in no uncertain terms.....

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  • I have up-voted your answer but - two things. Firstly, may I suggest that you provide more paragraph structure to your answers - a paragraph break per point in your argument - preventing a 'wall of text' appearing before the reader. And I am not wholly convinced by the idea of 'quality' rather than 'identity' - but that is a fine point of linguistics. +1. – Nigel J Jun 17 at 5:12
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    @Nigel J-Thank you for your vote and I take your point about the paragraph structure. It's just that I've touched on John's "Prologue" in a few of my answers of late and didn't want to keep repeating myself. I suppose that I was trying to put it in a "nutshell" but one can't be too succinct with regard to the verses in question, the linguistics of which, as you point out, being of much deliberation and that's putting it mildly. – Olde English Jun 17 at 16:43
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In 1Corinthians 8:6 there are two agencies expressed, ultimate and intermediate. The NT pattern is that the Father is the source and the Son is the instrument. As BDAG says for δια

Christ as intermediary in the creation of the world J 1:3, 10; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16

In 1Co 8:6 and Hebrews 1:2, both agents are in view. In John 1:3 and Col 1:16 only the intermediate agent with passive verbs are expressed. But a cohesive hermeneutic will understand the Father is the ultimate agent.

When a subject is the one who performs the action of a verb, they are the ultimate agent. When God “created” with the Hebrew verb BARA in Genesis 1:1, that verb which expresses Creation Ex Nihilo, would correspond to the ultimate agent. That's not to say there was no intermediate agent (Ge 1:26).

Thus if there were a correspondence between Ge 1:1 and J 1:1, God in both places is the subject who is the ultimate agent.

Attempting to make God the intermediate agent in John 1:1 makes no logical sense except for a modalistic view where the Word is a property of God and not a person with God.

It's also an impossible view when one gets to John 1:10 where ο κόσμος is δια ο Λόγος. This is obviously a reference to John 1:3-4.

Note: Since John 1:10 "the world came into existence through him" (ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο) is a restatement of "all things came into being through him" (πάντα δι αὐτου ἐγένετο) from John 1:3, and it uses the same language including the singular masculine pronoun, as 1:10 where the pronoun has the Word as it's antecedent, this must also be the case at 1:3. End Note

So the pronouns must refer to the Word in John 1:3-4 just as it does in verse 10.

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  • If not both, then who does the pronoun refer to God or the Word? – Revelation Lad Jun 15 at 23:44
  • @RevelationLad Added one more line at end. – user33125 Jun 15 at 23:56
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    I have not voted this answer down but I do not see it answers the question about pronouns directly. This answer is attempting to argue from all over scripture, but does not actually address the passage itself in an analytical manner. – Nigel J Jun 16 at 5:11
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    @ThomasPearne It is not enough to say that something is 'obviously' so. The OP clearly did not see it as 'obvious' or the question would not have been asked. The job of someone answering a question is to clarify matters so that the questioner may understand. – Nigel J Jun 16 at 21:43
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    That would be up to yourself. It is your answer. Something may be obvious to yourself. It may not be obvious to others. That's why BH exists. We all have much to learn. – Nigel J Jun 16 at 22:38

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