Does the use of ἦν in John 1:10 mean the pre-incarnate Word was in the world from the beginning of creation?

He was in the world (ἐν τῳ κοσμῳ ἠν [en tōi kosmōi ēn]). Imperfect tense of continuous existence in the universe before the Incarnation as in verses 1. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 1:10). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

  • Excellent question!! (as to be expected from you). +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 21:59
  • @Perry, word/s are the basic foundations to express/convey any thought/message and therefore need to be carefully viewed. I couldn’t find the words: pre-incarnate & incarnate/incarnation - in the Bible. Please help me to find its source and to which corresponding word of the Bible it correlates. Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 6:10
  • @Testaye "And the Word became flesh" (John 1:14a, ESV), Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο (NA28), Y el Verbo se hizo carne (RVA) , Og Ordet blev Kød . The Word became flesh is the definition of incarnation. Pre- means before.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 12:39
  • @Testaye Of course the term pre-incarnate can be confusing because Christ is not limited to our time and in a sense always was flesh. But, pre-incarnate means before Jesus was born in the flesh here on Earth.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 12:54
  • Maybe this will help: ቃልም ሥጋ ሆነ፤ (የዮሐንስ ወንጌል 1:14a)
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 13:01

1 Answer 1


There are several ways to understand the phrase in John 1:10, "in the world". These are -

1. John is referring to Jesus incarnation

Barnes appears to hold this view. However, this understanding stretches the meaning and grammar and I do not believe it is either objectively or subjectively correct.

2. Jesus was in the world by His Holy Spirit or some other vague notion.

Again, this amounts to a special pleading to somehow excuse the plain force of the text. Again, I do not think this interpretation stands up to close scrutiny.

3. John is referring to Jesus' pre-incarnate appearances in the OT.

The pre-incarnate Jesus regularly appeared in the OT and while recognized by a few, most did not understand.

The following passages make it clear that the “Angel of the LORD” is almost always, the LORD (Jehovah) Himself. Further, in view of clear statements that state that no one has ever seen God the Father (eg, 1 John 4:12, John 1:18 - compare Isa 64:4), these appearances in the OT presumably mean that these people actually saw the pre-incarnate Jesus. Gen 16:7-13, 22:11-17, 32:24-30, 48:16, Ex 3:2-6, 32:34, Num 22:22-35, Josh 5:13-15, Judg 2:1-4, 6:11-23, 13:3-23, Isa 63:9, Dan 3:25, 28, Hos 12:4, 5, Zech 3:1-7, Mal 3:1, Rev 8:3-5, 10:1-10, 18:1, 20:1-4.

A closely related phrase, “Angel of God” who is clearly God as in Gen 6:13, 8:15, 9:8, 17, 15:13, 17:3, 4, 21:12, 16-21, 35:1, 10, Ex 4:3-8, 6:2, 23:20, 21, Deut 1:6, 1 Kings 12:22, etc. See also Acts 10:3, 4, Gal 4:14.

In Isa 63:9, “the Angel of His [LORD’s] presence saved them”, and is almost certainly a reference to the same being.

In other places we see that the LORD sends the LORD:

  • Zech 2:6-12 – the LORD (= YHWH) claims three times that He has been sent by the LORD.
  • Isa 48:11-16 – again, the LORD has been sent by the LORD.

Thus, unsurprisingly, Jesus is the messenger to the human race and underlines the importance that the Godhead places upon such messages.

This is not to suggest that Jesus is an angel in the sense that He is less that God; far from it! However, the Greek and Hebrew word for “angel” simply means messenger and it is in this sense that Jesus is the messenger in the above passages.

Benson suggests something very similar -

John 1:10-11. He was in the world — From the beginning, frequently appearing, and making known to his servants, the patriarchs and prophets, the divine will, in dreams and visions, and various other ways

4. John refers to Jesus sustaining power as described in Col 1:17

This interpretation suggests that Jesus was "in the world" by His sustaining power:

  • Col 1:17 - He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Matthew Pooles has this:

He was in the world; he was in the place called the world, and amongst the men of the world; for so the term world is often taken, John 16:28 2 Peter 3:6. Christ, before he came in the flesh, was in it; filling both the heavens and the earth, and sustaining it by the word of his power, and manifesting his will to it, more immediately to Moses and to the prophets, and more mediately by Moses and by the prophets.

Gill arrives at a similar conclusion.

He was in the world,.... This is to be understood, not of his incarnation; for the word was denotes past existence in the world, even all the time past from the creation of the world; and the world intends the world in general, as opposed to Judea, and the people of the Jews in the next verse; besides, the incarnation of the word is spoken of in John 1:14 as a new and distinct thing from this: but of his being in the world, when first made, and since, by his essence, by which he fills the whole world; and by his power, upholding and preserving it; and by his providence, ordering and managing all the affairs of it, and influencing and governing all things in it


I personally believe that the immediate text of John 1:10 best lends itself to interpretation #3 above but I would not exclude #4 as well.

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