Types of Parallelisms
The opening verses of the Prologue have different types of parallelisms. For example, Ernst Haenchen sees a stair-step from while Nils W. Lund diagrams an inverse arrangemet:
Haenchen: Stair-step Lund: Inverse
1: ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος A ἐν ἀρχῇ
2: καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν B ἦν
3: καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος C ὁ λόγος
4: οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν D καὶ ὁ λόγος
F πρὸς τὸν θεόν
F' καὶ θεὸς
D' ὁ λόγος
A' ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν
Neither arrangement understands the structure to contribute additional meaning to the passage. Lund mostly ignores thoughts, the purpose of a chiastic device. The most complete thought is A' which has greater affinity with F than A. Haenchen's focus on a stair-step device must discount the significance of the inverse placement of ὁ λόγος from line 2 to 3 and ἐν ἀρχῇ from line 1 to and 4.
R. Alan Culpepper comments on both types:
One may note first that there is at least a double structure in vv. 1-2. As has long been observed, these verses employ a stair-step parallelism; i.e. the second term in each line becomes the first term in the next...A similar parallelism can be shown in vv. 3-5. It is apparent, however, that the construction is not continuous, since there is no connection between the second member of v. 2 and the beginning of v. 3. One may also observe that vv. 1-2 form an independent chiastic unit...vv. 1-2 contain both a stair-step parallelism and a chiasm
Culpepper continues by saying the opening verses “alerts one from the very beginning to look for repeated instances of chiastic and multiple structures in the prologue.”
3In fact, simple parallelism is also present (see below) and the full meaning requires understanding the different devices the writer used.
Chiasm and Chiasmus
The "chiasm, also called chiasmus is a stylistic literary figure which consists of a series of two or more elements followed by a presentation of corresponding elements in reverse order."
4An authentic chiasmus "produces balanced statements, in direct, inverted, or antithetical parallelism, constructed symmetrically about a central idea. The uniqueness of the chiastic structure lies in its focus upon a pivotal theme, about which the other propositions of the literary unit are developed."
If the first two verses form an independent chiastic unit, correctly discerning the structure is essential to understanding the message: (1) Parallel components must be considered together since they "offer a richer description than either of the individual parts could."
6(2) The central point identifies the key thought and "calls for particular attention in the exegesis of a passage."
Finally, Culpepper and others show the entire Prologue was composed using a chiasmus centered around and he gave them authority to become children of God (1:12b).
8Therefore, the opening thought must also be consistent with its chiastic partner, verse 18 and the Prologue's central theme.
The Chiasmus of John 1:1-2
This passage begins by employing a sequence which is reversed in the ending:
v1: ἐν ἀρχῇ (A) ἦν (B) ὁ λόγος (C)
v2: οὗτος (C') ἦν (B') ἐν ἀρχῇ (A')
In addition, these is a repeated phrase:
ἐν ἀρχῇ (A) ἦν (B) ὁ λόγος (C) --- πρὸς τὸν θεόν
οὗτος (C') ἦν (B') ἐν ἀρχῇ (A') πρὸς τὸν θεόν
Repeating a phrase at the end of a passage forms a frame (inclusio) around the unit
10and in this way shows where the thought ends.
The repeated phrase, πρὸς τὸν θεόν, describes more than a static union with God as the English might suggest. That would be expressed using μετά (e.g. John 17:12). Rather, πρὸς is "expressing direction 'on the side of,' 'in the direction of': with genitive 'from,' dative 'at,' or accusative (the most frequent usage in our literature) 'to'...
11Thus, πρὸς with the accusative τὸν θεόν "expresses movement toward God"
12and could be translated as "turned toward God."
John begins by describing the Word using a term indicating direction or motion. In this light one may further ask "Does John intend to convey a relationship between ἦν and the logos?"
verse 1a: ἦν ὁ λόγος
verse 1b: καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν
verse 1c: καὶ ἦν ὁ λόγος
verse 2a: οὗτος ἦν
When considered together, ἦν and logos follow a pattern of inversion. This is a way to show the logos is "verb dependent." It is a way to use structure to say the logos is active (cf. Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 55:10-11) and portrays the logos from a Biblical perspective, not one from Greek philosophy. John used a very simple device to show "active" existence: ἦν ὁ λόγος and ὁ λόγος ἦν.
Combining these elements suggests John constructed a simple A-B-A’ chiasmus:
A: ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν
B: καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
A': οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν
The first line begins with three terms which are placed in inverse order to begin the last line. (One can also consider the writer’s οὗτος ἦν summarizes ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν.) The chiastic unit ends with the repetition of πρὸς τὸν θεόν. The center phrase, the key point, has three unique features: (1) God is written in the nominative, an element repeated only in verse 18 (μονογενὴς Θεὸς). (2) God is used without the article. (3) The verb is placed in apposition to God. So, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος and ἦν ὁ λόγος and ὁ λόγος ἦν.
The complete thought expressed in verses 1-2 combines the union and existence of the Word and God. The literary devices simultaneously strengthen and explicate the nature of union and existence. It also partners with the ending of the Prologue:
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
(John 1:18 ESV)
Since πρὸς τὸν θεόν may be understood as "to" or "toward God," it follows that the Word "(returns to) the Father's side."
14In terms of verse 18, πρὸς τὸν θεόν alludes to the Word seeing, or facing God. That is, no one other than the Word who was πρὸς τὸν θεόν and was God has seen God.
On the other hand, the center of the chiasmus lacks the dynamic of πρὸς. Instead, the verb is in apposition with God indicating a closer or more intimate union while remaining silent about anything the Word does. (The subject of creating is taken up in verse 3.)
If ἐν ἀρχῇ alludes to Genesis, John insists the union and existence of the Word must be πρὸς τὸν θεόν. Therefore, if the reader considers the logos as "and God said..." as in Genesis, then πρὸς τὸν θεόν describes the Word having returned after God spoke (as in Isaiah 55:11). In terms of Genesis, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, is a summary of creation, a pattern the Prologue follows. The Word was and is in union with God before any details of creation are given. This type of opening is common in Hebrew narrative where it is "a characteristic Hebrew way of summarizing the whole story before the details are given."
Considered in the light of the Old Testament literary devices, the expectation for repeated strophes (A/A') is one of climatic parallelism which "describes the semantic relationship between lines that form a progression or climax"
16"Rather than simply repeating the sense of the first line by the use of synonymous terms, it expresses gradation: the second line intensifies, specifies or completes in some essential respect the thought or feeling expressed in the first line."
17However, John reversed the expected order:
A: ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος [καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν] πρὸς τὸν θεόν
A': οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν
Unlike typical Hebrew parallelism, the Prologue places the intensified line first. This has the affect of giving additional emphasis to the Word, which was also placed before God. This is followed throughout. It is the Word which was with God (1); was the agency of creation (3-5); was testified to by John (6-8); was the true light (9); came to, and was rejected by His own (10-11); gave authority to become children of God (12-13); became flesh and revealed His glory and was full of grace and truth (14); was before John (15); gives grace upon grace (16); is the agency of grace and truth (17); is in the bosom of the Father; makes known and/or leads others to the Father (18).
Comparing the first thought in the Prologue (1-2) with the last (18), two aspects stand out. First, the declaring of the Father literally takes place within the Prologue:
Verses 1-2 Verse 18
ὁ λόγος μονογενὴς θεὸς
τὸν θεόν τοῦ πατρὸς
Second, the typical progression for repeated strophes absent in verse 2, is found in verse 18 where the combination of Word and verb (the Word which was God) progressed to complete the thought: the Word which was God is now the μονογενὴς Θεὸς who is ἐξηγέομαι the Father.
Verse 1 Verse 18
ὁ λόγος ἦν μονογενὴς θεὸς ἐξηγέομαι
In verses 1-2, John used structure to make a statement of the unity of the Word with God while at the same time showing concurrent existence of the Word with God in a way which makes the Word the focal point of the opening. This sets the tone for the Prologue: it is about the Word.
The main thought in verses 1 and 2 is the close unity, the Word was God which foreshadows the main theme of the Prologue: becoming children of God. That is, those who believe enter into this unity as children of God. The means by which this is possible is the μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν who ἐξηγήσατο the Father.
1. Stair-step parallelism: Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John, Translated by Robert W. Funk, Edited by Robert W. Funk with Ulrich Busse, Fortress Press, 1984, Volume 1, p. 110; Inverse Parallelism: Nils Lund, The Influence of Chiasmus upon the Structure of the Gospels, Anglican Theological Review 13, No. 1 (January 1931), p. 42
2. R. Alan Culpepper, The Pivot of John's Prologue, New Testament Studies, Volume 27, Issue 1, October 1980, p. 9
3. Ibid., p. 10
4. Ronald E. Man, The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation, Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 141, April-June 1984, Number 562, p. 146
5. John Breck, Biblical Chiasmus: Exploring Structure For Meaning, Biblical Theological Bulletin, xvii, 2, 1987, p. 71
6. James L. Bailey and Lyle D. Vander Broek, Literary Forms in the New Testament, SPCK, 1992, p. 52
7. Mary H. Schertz and Peter B. Yoder, Seeing the Text: Exegesis for Students of Greek and Hebrew, Abingdon Press, 2001, p. 54
8. Culpepper, p. 15. Some commentators see the pivot consisting of the entirety of verses 12-13. M. E. Boismard, O.P. St. John's Prologue, translated by Carisbrooke Dominicans, Newman Press, 1957, may have been the earliest to make this observation.
9. "The correspondence between the beginning and end of the prologue is probably the most widely accepted point in the hypothesis of a chiastic structure." Culpepper, p. 9
10. Mary H. Schertz and Peter B. Yoder, p. 55
11. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 873
12. Peter F. Ellis, The Genius of John, The Liturgical Press, 1984 p. 21
13. Francis J. Moloney, Beginning the Good News: A Narrative Approach, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1992, p. 138
14. ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς may also be translated as "the one being in the bosom of the Father." In addition, Robert G. Hall shows how verse 18 may be translated as No one has ever seen God; μονογενὴς θεὸς, The One Who Is, has Himself led out into the bosom of the Father. Robert G. Hall, "The Reader as Apocalyptist", John's Gospel and Intimations of the Apocalyptic, Edited by Catrin H. Williams and Christopher Rowland, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013, p. 268.
15. H.C. Leopold D.D., Exposition of Genesis, Baker Book House, 1960, Volume II, p. 770. As a summary of the work of creation, it is similar to Paul's statement: 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)
16. Mary H. Schertz and Peter B. Yoder, p. 51
17. John Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1994, p. 23