Commentary: John 1:1-14
The Prologue encapsulates the entire Gospel of John and intimates all the major themes which the author will expound throughout his work. In fact, at King's College, London, Prof. Christopher Evans spent the entire semester lecturing on the first nine verses. D.A.Carson1 has effectively summarized the parallels:
-pre-existence 1:1-2 cf 17:5; life 1:4 cf 5:26; -light rejected 1:4 cf 8:12 not quenched 1:5 cf 3:19; -light coming into world 1:9 cf 3:19; 12:46; Christ not accepted 1:11 cf 4:44; born to God 1:13 cf 3:6; 8:41-42; glory seen 1:14 cf 12:41; only Son 1:14,18 cf 3:16; truth in Jesus 1:17 cf 14:6; no one has seen God 1:18 cf 6:46 (adapted)
This unique prologue brings New Testament christology to its climax. Beginning with the same phrase as Genesis "In the beginning" it knits together the stories of creation and redemption in an unprecedented way. The dynamic word of God finds expression and reification not only in humanity, made in God's image and likeness, and also in the animal and inanimate world but in the wedding of godhood and humanhood. God's word becomes flesh and blood.
Many different structures have been suggested for this hymn, but the following seems generally acceptable:
-Strophe 1 vv. 1-2 the pre-existence of the Logos, his role in creation -Strophe 2 vv. 3-5 his significance for humankind -prose interlude vv. 6-9 -Strophe 3 vv. 10-12 his rejection prior to the Incarnation2 -prose 12d-13 -Strophe 4 v. 14 the Incarnation which brings salvation -prose v. 15 -v. 16 humankind receives the fullness of grace -prose vv. 17-18 Jesus supersedes the Mosaic law.
Hebrew Scriptures Background
The most prominent Old Testament texts woven into the Prologue are those from Wisdom. Wisdom was God's helpmate in creation (Pr 8:27, 30; Wisd 7:12; 9:9; Sir 24:3). She was artisan (Wisd 8:6); counsellor (Wisd 8:4). She was considered "a breath of the power of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty" and the eternal light and the image of God's goodness (see Wisdom 7:22-8:1). She chose as her special abode the land of Israel (Sir 24). Further, she was seen as Saviour of Adam, Noah, Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Israelites enslaved by the Egyptians (Wisd 10:1-11:16 and 16:16-19:22).
The author of the Prologue of John, therefore, has taken the feminine figure of Wisdom, the feminine aspect of the deity, and incarnated her in Jesus. We might ask whether the rejection of the Logos before the Incarnation was a rejection of Lady Wisdom (see also Prov 8; Sir 24 and Wisd 7:22-8:1).
Today Christians are reconsidering the whole concept of redemption and/or salvation. They are tending to discard concepts such as atonement, ransom, expiation and also sacrificial theories and to see redemption of the restoration not only of our relationship to God but to the whole of creation.3 The mutual indwelling and relating of the persons in the Trinity is seen as the model and perfection of both relationships on the "horizonal" level with all creation and on the "vertical" level with God. It is the Gospel of John, especially as encapsulated in the Prologue, which is the most fruitful text to be used in expounding these theories. The Prologue shows the mutuality of Father and Son. the Son is in the Parent's "bosom" (a maternal, not paternal referent), as co-creator, and his relationship to the world is that of the light-life-bearing redeemer who will restore mutuality and relatedness with God and with fellow human beings, the animal world and inanimate nature.4 He comes forth from the Father/Mother in an ecstasy of love5 in order to share God's glory or doxology6 with humankind. The social life of the Trinity is to be the principle of the social life of humankind.7 Later in the Gospel Jesus prays that "they may be one even, as we (the Father/Mother and Son) are one."
Thus the message of the John's Prologue shows, if I may express it in LaCugna's words, that: The economy of creation, salvation, and consummation is the place of encounter in which God and the creature exist together in one mystery of communion and interdependence8 (LaCugna, p. 250).
Josephine Massyngbaerde Ford
1. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 111. 2. R. Schnackenberg, The Gospel According to John, Volume I, p. 227. 3. See Sally McFague, The Body of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). 4. Mary Grey, Feminism, Redemption and the Christian Tradition (Mystic, Conn.: Twenty-Third Publications, 1990), pp. 105-135 (chapter five, Redemption as Right Relation). 5. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God For Us (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp. 260-66. 6. Cf. LaCugna, 1991, pp. 319-348. 7. Royce G.Gruenler, The Trinity in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1986). 8. LaCugna, p. 250.