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.
The world will tell us, and we can observe from personal experience, that first impressions count. The glossiest part of any book is the cover, and authors will tell you that the commonest time that someone stops reading a book is in the first three pages. Thus, whenever we approach a book in scripture, we should pay particular attention to the opening verses as it will probably give us a clue as to the content and possibly the purpose of the book. When we come to the gospels we find each gospel writer immediately begins by telling us of a beginning and each of them has a different beginning which indicates the scope and purpose of the book.
Matthew, the first gospel starts with the genesis (G1078, rendered generation in the AV) of Jesus Christ, and goes back as far as Abraham. Matthew thus declares his interest in the Lord within the scope of Jewish history and goes on to show that he is the fulfilment of OT prophecy. As such Matthews interest starts around 2000BC.
Mark seems to have little interest in such histories; his account starts with the Gospel, the good news, the message of Jesus Christ the son of God. Mark is thus declaring his interest in the active, effective part of the Lords ministry. His account thus starts around 26AD.
Luke is clearly a scientist. He makes us wait until his second verse before declaring his interest but then shows that he is interested in those things for which he can gather evidence. He goes back as far as the eye-witnesses, to around 18 months before the Lords birth, let us say 6BC.
Finally John enters the fray with the expression In the beginning was the word. The obvious question is when, exactly, is John referring too. The commonest answer is simply to refer back to Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. At first sight this is quite plausible, Genesis is the first book of our Bibles and talks about beginnings and so the furthest back any other book can possibly go is Genesis 1:1. Or is it? You see I would say that if you want to find Genesis 1:1 in the gospel of John then you need to go down to verse three, the creation of the physical universe, the event to which Genesis 1:1 refers. In John 1:1 I think we are looking before then, in the same way that John was privileged to write about the end of all things in Revelation I think he has been given the privilege of writing about the beginning of all things here in the Gospel of John.
In this way the Gospel of John is unique in that it is the only one of the four that doesn't assume any prior knowledge. It is a 'starting from scratch', bottom up, description of the person and purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ. I trust that as we progress through it the reader will come to see him, and to believe in him.
So, having established that verse 1 refers back to a time before creation let us see what we find. The Word or Logos. At first sight this appears a rather strange statement and we may be tempted to skip it, but we shouldn't, we should stop and think about what a Word is. If you have a toddler then the chances are you have learned to communicate with it. From the early days when different cries could be used to distinguish between food, changing and colic you have probably progressed to simple signing and possibly even frantic pointing and nods and shakes of the head. Each stage of communication is clearer, quicker and less error prone but each is imperfect. The child is still reliant upon the parent guessing what it wants or being in physical proximity of the required object. Then the child learns to speak. Initially it will probably use nouns. The cry no longer means I want somebody it means I want mummy (or daddy). It is no longer a finger in the mouth to mean thirsty, we have the words milk and juice to give precision to the request. The child will usually progress to adjectives and pronouns (especially possessive ones) to acknowledge that objects have quality (cold milk) and owners (my milk). Then one day the child will say the dreaded word that sends shivers down the spine of anyone that has ever raised a child. Why. The 'why' phase is universal and vitally important as it enables the child to learn. What many distracted parents may miss though is that it marks an important phase in the child's development, the child is beginning to try to understand, or reason. No longer is it content to know that there is milk, it wants to know all there is to know about milk.
And John is telling us, that right at the beginning, before creation, there was understanding and reason, or to stick closer to the Greek, there was logic. If you have read the book of Proverbs this shouldn't surprise you. In chapter 8 we meet Wisdom; verse 22 declares The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, From the beginning, Or ever the earth was.
However, if you haven't read the book of Proverbs, and worse yet if you have spent time reading some modern scientific works (or indeed much pagan theology) then John has probably departed company with you in the first six words of his Gospel! You see the most popular scientific guess of the origin of the universe today starts with a big bang. In some ways this is odd because one of the observable scientific laws we have is entropy. Put simply, things decay; you cannot create order from disorder in a closed system. Working backwards one would logically project that before the universe we presently have there should have something more ordered, and indeed there was. Logos.
Having started with a contentious statement of science he progresses to theology. 'and the word was with God,' Having introduced order John now introduces God, with no further apology, and this is worth noting. The Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God, even in a Gospel such as John's where, by his own admission, he is trying to produce a proof text that will encourage belief. The Bible simply states that there is a God and to believe otherwise is foolishness (Ps 53:1 The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God').
The use of the word God would not have surprised many, most people believe in some form of deity, but here the claim is getting precise. There is God and there is order (or wisdom) but the two are distinct (hence the word with). If we go back to Proverbs 8 we find that there is also a relationship between the two (v30 Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before him)
Then John introduces the conundrum and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. To anyone reading this and trying to find what the spirit is saying there are two obvious difficulties.
We may try to solve the problem by delving down into the Greek in the expectation of find a translational problem. What we actually find is that the Greek gives us an even bigger difficulty that has spawned numerous heresies. The Greek reads (translated literally, word by word)
And the Word was with the God, and God was the Word, This was in beginning with the God.
The heresy comes from the three occurrences of the word God, in the two where God is distinct from the Word it is preceded by a definite article (The) in the case where the identification is made the article is left out. This causes the Jehovahs Witnesses to render it 'the Word was a God'. Having done battle with a number of sects in my early years this verse was a source of constant frustration to me. I firmly believe that Jesus (and thus the Word) is God, John goes on to show he believes the same, so why oh why did he leave the definite article out in his opening verse?
I think the reason is that John was trying to explain a notion of the trinity that Western minds just don't seem to want to grasp, the difference between equality and equivalence. Today in is widely accepted that men and women are equal, I agree with this. However western minds want to go on to say that if men and women are equal then they are also equivalent, in any situation where you can place a man you can place a women too. This clearly does not hold, men cannot bear children and, although it is probably a felony to say this, there are things that women, in general, are not designed to do either.
I think this notion of equality and equivalence applies to the trinity too, they are each equal, each God, but not equivalent. John has tried to introduce this concept using context. When he says 'God was the word' he was I believe allowing for the translation of a God, but the two uses of theos (God) either side were both applying to the God. So John is saying here, the Word was a God, a distinct and non-equivalent entity to Almighty God but the only term of reference you have for this 'a God' is 'the God'. Put more simply, this God is distinct from the one God we know of but bears all the same attributes and properties of the God you know.
We can solve question b) more simply. We had been told the word was in the beginning, we had been told the word was with God, verse two completes the triangle and tells us that they were together in the beginning (had it not been for v2 we might have believed that the Word came first met with God later).
So, in summary, our opening two verses tell us that there are two equal but distinct entities that have been together for all time.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Verse 3 brings us up to Genesis 1 and plainly tells us that all things were made by (the Greek is really through) the word. This part tells us two things
Item 1 is a main sticking point for non-believers although I will not tackle in here, I would like to point out however that creation is a significant part of the Lord Jesus' claim to position, if the church allows that cornerstone to be removed we then move to very shaky ground in many other areas.
Item 2 is something that begins to define the role of the Word. It is an agent through which the universe is created. If we allow ourselves to skip around the Bible we find the claim goes further.
Hebrews 1: 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Let us remember this in our godless, gloomy, catastrophic world. The universe is created and sustained through the power of logic or wisdom as personified in The Word.
Again the second clause of this verse may look like repetition but is actually John leaving no room for doubt. By asserting the negative John is saying nothing was made without the Word an agent of the creation, in particular the Word itself cannot be a created entity and is thus God (by definition).