6

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. - John 1:1-3

What, if any, hermeneutic principles make it impossible for this beginning in John's prologue to refer to anything other than the beginning of Genesis 1?

What, if any, hermeneutic principles make it possible for John's beginning to be something other than the beginning of Genesis?

5
  • 1
    John would have been familiar with the Septuagint, where Genesis 1 begins with the same two Greek words that mean "in the beginning". It's difficult to believe that John would have written it that way had he meant something different. Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 13:49
  • 1
    We deny that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another. . . . . might be a good place to start. Chicago statement on Bilblical Hermeneutics - Article XVII. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 14:21
  • @RayButterworth Why is it difficult to believe? Christians like John were obsessed with the new beginning, not Genesis! The new beginning is more important to them than the Genesis beginning. What's difficult to believe is it isn't an allusion to Genesis, IMO. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:51
  • @OneGodtheFather, if I were writing a novel about one man's obsession, I wouldn't write “Call me Fred.” as the first line unless I wanted readers to associate it with Moby Dick. Even if I thought that was the perfect opening line, I still wouldn't use it because I know that readers would make that association. I'd deliberately avoid using it. ¶ John was similarly aware of how Genesis begins and that people would make that association. Even so, he chose not to avoid it, implying that he did want to make the association . Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 16:39
  • @RayButterworth Yes, John definitely wanted to make that association. But what did he mean when making that association? Was he duplicating Genesis, or talking about the new creation while consciously using Genesis language? Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 0:05

4 Answers 4

4

There are several clues here, the most obvious being the same phrase, Ἐν ἀρχῇ (in [the] beginning) begins both John 1:1 and Gen 1:1 in the LXX.

The same phrase is one thing but as any casual survey of the word ἀρχή (arche) will show, it is important to know what the event or process is that is beginning. Thge word is used of the beginning of several things such as:

  • the beginning of mankind on earth, Matt 19:4, 8,
  • the beginning of tribulation in the Christian world, Matt 24:8, Mark 13:8
  • the beginning of the world, Matt 24:21, Mark 13:19
  • the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and His ministry, Mark 1:1, John 6:64, 8:25, 15:27, 16:4
  • the beginning of Jesus' life on earth, Luke 1:2
  • the start of Jesus' miracles, John 2:11
  • The beginning of Satan, John 8:44
  • the beginning of Paul's life, Acts 26:4

... and so forth. So, what "beginning" is implied in John 1:1. There are a series of strong verbal parallels between John 1:1-5 and Gen 1:1-5 such as:

  • "in the beginning" starts both passages
  • the Word, and, God speaks/said
  • God appears prominently in both passages
  • creation by God is the creation by the Word
  • Light is in both passages
  • Darkness is in both passages

Ellicott summs this well:

(1) In the beginning.—The reference to the opening words of the Old Testament is obvious, and is the more striking when we remember that a Jew would constantly speak of and quote from the book of Genesis as Berēshîth (“in the beginning”). It is quite in harmony with the Hebrew tone of this Gospel to do so, and it can hardly be that St. John wrote his Berēshîth without having that of Moses present to his mind, and without being guided by its meaning.

2
  • +1 Yes, but what do we make of those verbal parallels is the question, no? Is this a new beginning, or the old beginning? If John wanted to lay out a new beginning, he very well may have wanted to have those parallels. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:46
  • 1
    @OneGodtheFather - Great point - John's point still appears to be the existence of the Word before the creation, who created all this, and was himself, uncreated.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 21:01
1

Yes, both Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 do start out the same way with, "in beginning" or "in the beginning."

However, I believe the point John is making is not the same as the Genesis beginning. I think the view of John is to show the "Word of God" was there before the creation beginning of space, mass and time of the universe.

In other words, John's beginning antecedes the Genesis "beginning," extending without an initial beginning into eternity past, before even time was created. This is confirmed by the words of Jesus (as a man) at John 17:5.

"And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory I had with Thee before the world was." Also John 17:24 where Jesus says, "Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world."

So, the main thought in Genesis 1:1 is on WHAT HAPPENED "in the beginning," and in John 1:1 the emphasis is on WHO EXISTED "in the beginning." John 1:2-3 confirms this position.

John 1:2, "He was in the beginning with God. Vs3, All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."
Some of this was taken from ("ICR, Creation Institute Research.")

3
  • If there is a 'beginning' which 'antecedes' a beginning then the first is a beginning and the second is not a beginning ; otherwise black is white and white is red and words mean nothing at all.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:26
  • @NigelJ I think the point the author of the article (ICR) use of the word "beginning" is to show that the Word/Logos logically existed before the Genesis beginning since He is the creator of time, space and mass. Revelation 3:14, "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this." The Greek word for beginning is "arche" and it means the origin, first cause. We get our English word "architect" from that word arche. Of course there is only one beginning and I understand the point your making but it's not the point of John 1:1.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 13:38
  • 'In the beginning God created' . . . . . 'in the beginning was the word'. The word was with God. And God was the word. Perfect union. Perfect harmony. In the beginning. Union in creation. .. . . . . . . .. . . .. . . . . . . . . . .. I simply cannot fathom what point you are trying to make. It utterly escapes me.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 16:07
1

The overall context of the Gospel of John fits John alluding to the Pentateuch; thus, also a parallel to Genesis 1:1. The Septuagint (LXX, Greek translation of the Old Testament well known in John's time and quoted in the New Testament) starts Genesis 1:1 with exactly the same phrase as John 1:1 (Ἐν ἀρχῇ). Hebrew translations (Delitzsh and the Bible Society in Israel) of the New Testament start John 1:1 with the same phrase as Genesis 1:1 in the Tanakh (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית).

  1. You quoted v3 referencing Creation. Light in v4-5 also plays an important part of Creation in Genesis 1.

  2. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt [ἐσκήνωσεν] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV) See In John 1:14 what does ἐσκήνωσεν mean?

  3. Moses refenced in v16.

  4. V45 The prophet Moses foretold.

  5. 2:6-8 Water to wine parallels water to blood in Exodus

  6. "... as Moses lifted up the serpent (John 3:14)

  7.  Jacob’s well 4:6

  8. "There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope" (John 5:45, ESV)

  9. "Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.'"
    (John 6:32–33)

  10. "... before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58)

  11. "... we are disciples of Moses" 9:28

  12. "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30, ESV) and Deut. 6:4.

  13. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32, ESV)

  14. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

  15. "Philip said to him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' 9 Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.'" (John 14:8–10, ESV). See Exodus 33:17-23.

I put this together in a hurry. There likely is more.

1

The Conceptual Aspect
The Prologue is structured as a chiasm:1

A: The Word as theos with God (1-2)  
 B: Creation came through the Word (3)  
  C: We have received life from the Word (4-5)  
   D: John the Baptist was sent to testify (6-8)  
    E: Incarnation and the response of the world (9-10)  
     F: The Word and His own (Israel) (11)
      G: Those who accept the Word (12a)
       X:  He gave authority to become children of God (12b)  
      G': Those who believe the Word (12c)
     F': The Word and His own (believers) (13)
    E': Incarnation and response of the community (14)  
   D': John the Baptist's testimony (15)  
  C': We have received grace from the Word (16)  
 B': Grace and truth came through the Word (17)  
A': The Only Begotten theos with the Father (18)

Verses 1 and 2 are a separate thought from verse 3. Therefore, in the beginning... serves as an introduction, or a summary before any statement of the work of creation:

John                                 Genesis
Verses 1-2: Introduction/Summary     Verse 1
Verse 3: Description/Scope of work   Verses 1:2 to 2:3

The Prologue's first two verses are patterned after the beginning of Genesis. The Word was and is in union with God before any details of creation are given. This is a common characteristic of Hebrew narrative which begins by "summarizing the whole story before the details are given."2 As a summary, verses 1-2 of the Prologue envision the entire work of creation. Not only was the Word with God when the heavens and the earth were created; the Word was with God on the seventh day.

The Linguistic Aspect
Linguistically, in the beginning recalls the Greek beginning of Genesis:

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

The Visual Aspect
Setting the two documents side-by-side leads to a visual similarity:

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν
ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

Conclusion
Considering all of the aspects, it is reasonable to conclude the Gospel writer was purposeful to draw attention to "the beginning" as it is found in the Greek translation of Genesis, while preserving the Hebrew aspect of providing a summary before giving details.

The obvious ἐν ἀρχῇ/ἐν ἀρχῇ invites comparison of ὁ λόγος/ὁ θεὸς which should be seen as an additional means of conveying how the writer intends καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος to be understood.

As these aspects could easily have been avoided, it is reasonable to conclude the writer was intentional to "go out the way" to begin the Gospel with the comparisons to Genesis 1 and not any other beginning.


1. R. Alan Culpepper, "The Pivot of John's Prologue," New Testament Studies, Volume 27, Issue 1, October 1980, p. 16
2. 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)

1
  • 1
    The chiasm is profound given X and one of the main themes of 1 John. +1 Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 12:25

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.