As a lover of words, this statement opening the Gospel of John has always fascinated me.
“In the beginning” obviously refers to something other than the “Word”, as the Word already existed “in the beginning”.
The phrase, “in the beginning” is a time reference. If the Word already existed in the beginning, the Word existed before the beginning, and that makes the Word timeless.
John also tells us in the beginning “the Word was with God”. (John 1:1) The Word existed with God before time. Language, communication existed before the creation. The nonmaterial “things” that comprise language and communication are, therefore, preeminent, existing before material things, and therefore more lasting than this material world in which we live.
Genesis 3:1 describes how God created the world:
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
In that statement and in each subsequent statement, all the various components of the creation are prefaced with words, “God said“. In other words (pun intended), God spoke to create the world we know, and it was created through his Word. These themes are continued in the Gospel of John.
John 1:1 parallels the beginning of the creation story in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The allusion and parallel to Genesis is obvious.
John continues in the first verse of his Gospel to say that not only was the Word with God in the beginning, “the Word was God”. The creative force that moved over the waters, separated light from darkness and established everything we know was with God and it was God.
John, then, says, “He was with God in the beginning!” He (using a personal pronoun for “the Word”) was with God, and He was God. These phrases suggest that God (singular) was with God from before the beginning. God had communion (community) within Himself from the beginning (more accurately, from before the beginning).
This also parallels Genesis 1:2-27 (NIV) where we read:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
The text switches back and forth from singular to plural to singular. Some people might think this way of translating these verses is a mistake, that Christian Bible interpreters are taking liberty with the Hebrew in these verses. Regardless, John does this by implication by beginning his Gospel this way, equating the singular God with the Word, who was with God in the beginning and also was God.
Then in verse 3, John says, “All things came into being through Him….” God not only has communication and community in Himself, God has agency. Thus, community, communication and agency are timeless and are part of who God is.
But there is more. John says, “In Him [the Word] was life….” (John 1:4) In other words, the force (the Word/God) by which the world was created is life itself. Life emanates from God because He is life. Life emanates from and is sustained by God.
At this point, John connects the timeless Word of God, who was with God and was God, by which and through which the world was created, to time and place:
“The Word become flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
(John 1:14) John, of course, is referring to Jesus. Jesus is God incarnate. The import is unmistakable: there could be no more significant event in human history this! God entered into His own creation in created form.
The same life that spoke and created the world became flesh and lived in time and place as a man! The same God who spoke to create the world came to dwell among us and to speak His word to us in human form.
No wonder the people were “amazed at his teaching”; no wonder “his words had authority”. (Luke 4: 32) How incredible it would have been in the presence of the Word/Life/God living as a man to have heard His word spoken face to face!
The significance of spoken word cannot be mistaken in Scripture. It is the instrument by which God created the world, and it is the vehicle by which God spoke to mankind through Jesus. Of this the prophet Isaiah spoke any years earlier:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.