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 ESV)
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν

1. The structure of 1:1b and 1:1c follow the basic A-B-B'-A' chiastic arrangement:

καὶ [A] ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν [B] θεόν  
καὶ   [B'] θεὸς ἦν [A'] ὁ λόγος

2. The statements with the Word and God have been alternated throughout the passage:

enter image description here

3. Verses 1-2 form a true chiasmus:1

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

What do these three literary devices add to the exegesis of the relationship of the Word and God?

1. "...authentic chiasmus produces balanced statements, in direct, inverted, or antithetical balanced statements, 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." John Breck, Biblical Chiasmus: Exploring Structure For Meaning, Biblical Theological Bulletin, xvii, 2, 1987, p. 71


6 Answers 6


Well, it's interesting how the outermost lines are a statement about the Word's eternal nature; how he was at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1:1, where God created the skies(heavens) and the land(earth). And then the innermost lines(in the center) are a statement about the Word's individuality, i.e. how he is simultaneously with God and God.

[In the beginning was the Word]

(and the Word was with God

and the Word was God)

[He was in the beginning with God]

Perhaps all that is to indicate that God and the Word eternally depend on each other for creation? I mean, the outermost lines talk about the Word's eternal nature; how both he and God are eternally interconnected and were at the beginning of the whole universe(i.e. John 1:1 being cross-referenced with Genesis 1:1). And then the innermost lines reaffirm that proposition by saying that, not only was the Word was with God(at the beginning), but he was also God! God cannot be God without God, and if the Word is God then God cannot be without the Word.

So, perhaps the point of the design of the passage is to assert the codependency of God and the Word for matters of creation; that if it wasn't for the inextricable relationship between the two, there would have been no "in the beginning" because there would be no beginning, and subsequently no universe.

That's really all I can say, so sorry if it's not much. But I hope you have an amazing day. :)

  • You are making it up as you go and ignoring 1John 1 clearly stating the logos to be a “which”, not an entity with all the attributes you have imagined. Also ignoring the word was ‘with’ God, therefore, not God as God is God.
    – Steve
    Jan 3, 2022 at 20:15
  • I never said, "God as God is God." Merely reiterating what the text itself unequivocally says. I don't even believe that God needs the Word to be Himself; I believe that God needs the Word to be something WHOLE. God depends on the Word to carry out what He says, i.e. to create the entire universe! And the Word depends on God to command him to do so. The two are codependent. It's a simple deduction, you shouldn't be disagreeing.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 3, 2022 at 20:20
  • Both the Word and God can do fine on their own; they don't need each other to exist. A husband doesn't need his wife to exist or to be just fine on his own. But there are just some things he will never be able to do without his wife. It's not technically that he is incomplete in and of himself; just that he has to potential to be so much more that he could never be without a wife(i.e. have children, raise a family, have a loving partner to spend the rest of his life with). It's the same with God and the Word. God is God no matter what; but He is able to accomplish so much more with His Word.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 3, 2022 at 20:22
  • 1
    There are aspects of your approach like "eternal nature" which make sense. But there is no direct mention of creation in 1:1-2. I don't mean that is not in the background or in the mind of John. Just pointing out creation doesn't enter into the Prologue until verse 3. IOW, John had something to say about the Word and God, before he had anything to say about creation. Jan 4, 2022 at 1:01
  • 2
    Sorry, I need to say this. @steveowen, could you imbibe your comments with a little grace, please? It’s not pleasant, it’s not needed, it’s not helpful. Stop it. e your comments with a little grace, please? Rajesh is all of 3 days on this sight, you rudely respond to his answers, then continue here with your unnecessarily abrupt tone. It’s not pleasant, it’s not needed, it’s not helpful. Stop it.
    – user36337
    Jan 4, 2022 at 5:49

Based on the OP’s observations, we can arrange Jn 1:1-2 into one chiasm in the following way:

A: In the beginning was the Word, and 
     B1: the Word was with 
          B2: God, and 
          B2': God 
     B1': the Word was 
A’: This was in the beginning with God. 

This arrangement places B2 and B2’ at the center of the chiasm. Based on the chiastic structure, God is then the main idea or focal point around which everything else revolves. Accordingly, two themes radiate from the central point: “the Word was with God” (B1 and B2) and “the Word was God” (B1’ and B2’).

The first and last lines (A and A’) paired together complete and encapsulate the thought: “In the beginning was the Word; this was in the beginning with God.” Since God is the focal point, it follows that the words “in the beginning” regard God’s existence.

  • "it follows that the words “in the beginning” reference God’s existence" Do you mean the eternal nature of God's existence?
    – Rajesh
    Jan 7, 2022 at 19:51
  • @Rajesh Though I do not disagree that the “eternal nature of God’s existence” is in view, I only meant to say that the chiastic arrangement provides a reference point, a lens through which to look at the other elements in the chiasm.
    – Nhi
    Jan 7, 2022 at 22:49
  • +1 good job! :)
    – Rajesh
    Jan 11, 2022 at 17:42

While there exists a technical verbal chiasm in the second and third lines of John's prologue, ... logos ... theos ... theos ... logos, such actually obscures the more important structure. Further, this verbal chiasm is not a semantic chiasm as will be explained shortly.

The more important larger structure is called "staircase parallelism", meaning that the end of each phrase becomes the beginning of the next.

Let us examine the first few verses. Note the staircase parallelism of verse 1-5 with my overly literal 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, ie, created]

  • And without him became not one [thing]
  • . That which became in him was life
  • . . And that life was the light of mankind
  • . . . And the light in the darkness shines
  • . . . . And the darkness it [did] not grasp.

In the second and third lines, "theos" has slightly different meanings:

  • line 2: "the Word was with God" = the Father as confirmed by V18
  • line 3: "the Word was god" is a qualitative category statement and thus does not specifically reference the Father.

The opening 18 verses of the John’s Gospel have been the subject of intense study and debate primarily because of their theological content.

Note the large number of verbal parallels with Gen 1:1-4; beginning, word/spoken, God, creation, light, darkness, etc. This prologue lays out all the theological subjects that John’s Gospel explores. One of the most significant is the early statement that builds up to the final climax:

  • John 1:1 - … the Word was god [a qualitative category statement. See Daniel B Wallace, “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics”, p269.]
  • John 20:28 – Thomas answered Him, “The Lord of me and the God of me.” This latter statement (uncorrected by Jesus) declares Jesus to be “ho theos” – God in the fullest sense.

This is the first of the many themes developed in John such as Jesus as the source of life; Jesus as the light of the world, etc.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jesse
    Jan 4, 2022 at 18:45
  • Also there is nothing which connects verses 2 and 3. So calling it staircase parallelism in order to connect vv. 1-5 to Genesis 1:1-4, not only ignores the chiastic effect of repeating the first item in the next breath: A->B->B (the staircase)->A (the chiastic). It ignores verses 1-2 are meant to be understood as a complete thought which in terms of the entire Prologue is paired with verse 18. You attempt to make 3 independent statements (vv. 1-2; v. 3; vv. 4-5) into one continuous stream in order to compare to Gen 1:1-4, which does not even include man. Feb 2, 2022 at 16:59

[John 1:1] is confusing creation with Creator, stating θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος "Theos en ho Logos" = God was the Word"?? -- If [Isaiah 55:11] claims the Mouth of YHVH created His Word, then the Hebrew פֶּה is more powerful than the Greek λόγος.

YHVH tells us through the prophet Yeshayahu the distinct relationship of Himself and His Word : "so shall be My Word that emanates from My Mouth ; [It] shall not return to Me [unfulfilled], unless [It did] what I desire and [It achieved] what I sent It to do."

(כֵּ֣ן יִֽהְיֶ֚ה דְבָרִי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֵצֵ֣א מִפִּ֔י לֹֽא־יָשׁ֥וּב אֵלַ֖י רֵיקָ֑ם כִּ֚י אִם־עָשָׂה֙ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָפַ֔צְתִּי וְהִצְלִ֖יחַ אֲשֶׁ֥ר שְׁלַחְתִּֽיו)

YHVH tells us His Word is like Rain or Snow (Isaiah 55:10) sent down to shape flesh of earthly vessels the way Avinu desires them to be.

The prophet David saw the distinction between Word(s) and YHVH in Psalm 119 verse 57 stating : "YHVH is my portion," I said, to keep Your Words." (חֶלְקִ֖י יְהֹוָ֑ה אָמַ֗רְתִּי לִשְׁמֹ֥ר דְּבָרֶֽיךָ). To David - Devareikha דְּבָרֶֽי-ךָ (Your-Words) represented the desires of YHVH, not YHVH Himself.

  • 1
    "claims the Mouth of YHVH created His Word" But it doesn't. It said that the Word emanates from God's mouth. How do you take that to mean that the Word is created by God? Emanation is distinct from creation.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 3, 2022 at 19:45
  • 2
    I think your use of Isaiah 55 is relevant since the entire Prologue follows the pattern of the Word leaving and returning. However, your analysis should consider the actual text. It is not rain or snow is it rain and snow; also is is not seed or bread, but seed and bread. Isaiah gives two examples from the natural world and both speak to a two-fold effect of the word. Also, you say פֶּה is more powerful than λόγος yet the LXX renders פֶּה as ῥῆμά, not λόγος. Jan 3, 2022 at 19:53
  • @RevelationLad Great points!
    – Rajesh
    Jan 3, 2022 at 19:55
  • "So any movement in 1:1 is towards God and movement away from God occurs after 1:1." Really? Wow. What implications does that have then?
    – Rajesh
    Jan 5, 2022 at 18:46

What your saying in answering your own question חִידָה/puzzle has nothing to do with Gods spoken word in general at John 1:1. You will note that this says "the" (definite article) word (singular) existed. It doesn's say God's word or words or even the thoughts and plans of God.

It says "The Word existed..." And "The Word existed" how? The Word existred with the God. John 1:1-2. beginning, the definite article has been supplied. The actual Greek is en arche-that is, "in beginning." Genesis 1:1 starts out the same way, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

So what's the point being made here at John 1:1-2 as opposed to Genesis 1:1? The main thought in Genesis 1:1 is on WHAT HAPPENED in the beginning. The main thought or the emphasis John 1:1-2 is on WHO EXISTED in the beginning.

This means that John's beginning antecedes the Genesis beginning, extending without an initial beginning into eternity past., BEFORE even time was created. John 17:24 bears this out where Jesus, after His incarnation or in His humanity acknowledged that He was with the Father, and loved by the Father, "before the foundation of the world."

John 17:5 states, "And now glorify Thou Me TOGETHER with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had BEFORE THE WORLD WAS." So, if one wants to make the point that John 1:1 is about the spoken word or words or even if John 1:1 is about the thoughts and plan of God, (which many do) Jesus as God with His Father "antecedes or precedes" this notion. As I said, John 1:1-2, specifically vs2 Jesus was already existing way before anything was created.

  • where does it say 'existed'? What you seem unable to grasp is Jesus is the word made flesh - this happened ~2000 yrs ago and you cannot deny that as the bible never mentions him before this so you have to read him in (as you do, denying the plain truth of the Gospels). What Jesus also understands is that he IS the logos which was in the beginning - he wasn't, but the logos was. Now he IS that logos and understands which he originated from and has that heritage of glory that was with God's plan of creation.
    – Steve
    Jan 4, 2022 at 0:45

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:1

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
E ἦν
F πρὸς τὸν θεόν
F' καὶ θεὸς
E' ἦν
D' ὁ λόγος
C' οὗτος
B' ἦν
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 chiasm2

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."5

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."7

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.9

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 unit10and 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."13

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."15

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

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.