This is a brief look at the prologue of the Gospel according to John; brief, but I trust it contains the most relevant and important information of this chunky kernel of theological gold.

Apologies for the lack of decent formatting: I’m not completely up with WordPress’s formatting features.

1. who is Jesus
a. His nature
b. in relation to the Father

2. the human/Jewish response
a. how we should respond
b. how people did respond

vv 1-(4)5 – in mnemonic, chant/poetic form.
1. In (the) beginning was the word
and the word was with the deity
and the word was deity.

2. this one was in (the) beginning with the deity.

3. Everything through him came to be
and without him nothing came to be
that has come to be.

4. in him life was
and the life was the life of humanity.

5. And the light in the darkness shines
and the darkness did not overcome/understand it.

v.1 – the Greek word I’ve translated as deity is theos. Phillip Harner’s article in the Journal of Biblical Literature demonstrates two facts:

(i) the second use of theos in verse 1 (that is, in clause c), rather than being definite or indefinite, is adjectival: it describes the essential nature, the defining characteristics, of the logos; and

(ii) the syntax of clause c is the strongest possible way John could have said that the logos was absolute deity, but at the same time was not the same entity as the being defined in clause b as “(the) God.”

In other words, the logos was not the person the Old Testament affirms as the one true God, and whom Jesus calls the Father; nevertheless, the logos has the essential nature of that God, including those characteristics that cannot be imparted to any other being; such as the triomnium (omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence), perfection, and immutability (neither changing nor subject to change).

The issue lies with using the same noun, theos, in two different ways: in the first instance as a definition, and in the second instance as a description. It would be like saying: John was with the human, and John was human. (This analogy only deals with the way theos is used, not with divine ontology.)


Excursus: Colwell’s Rule.
If you don’t understand/like grammar, jump to the last couple of sentences. Colwell’s Rule has entered the consciousness of grammatically aware Christians because certain groups, such as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society [1], state that as there is no article before theos in John 1:1c, theos is indefinite, and should be translated as “a god”. (In koinē Greek, there is no indefinite article anyway.) For this reason, Trinitarians usually try to prove that “god” in clause c is definite, and have hijacked Colwell’s Rule to help.

Colwell’s Rule is: definite predicate nouns that precede the verb generally lack the article. Greek syntax is determined by the inflection of the words rather than their order, so it is the article that indicates the subject. Colwell’s rule does not determine whether or not a noun is definite but which noun is the subject: if a noun is definite and precedes the verb, we can tell if it is the subject or the predicate because of the presence or absence of the definite article.

In John 1:1c, “God” is without the article and is therefore the predicate. “God” also precedes the verb, but none of this tells us if it is definite or not. Grammar is not mathematics; we can’t change the formula and assume the values remain the same. So it is wrong to argue that Colwell’s Rule proves that the Word is deity, because it means we are assuming that “God” in the clause is definite. Definiteness is a condition of the construction, not what we are trying to determine. [2]

Moreover, if “god” in 1:1c were definite, this would mean that the Word was the same person as the God with whom he was said to be in clause b. This ontology is called modalism, and is considered a heresy: it preserves the unity of God, but destroys the distinctness of the three Persons.

vv (5)6-9 – chiasm about John the Baptist. Or 6-9 two doublets of John the Baptist and the word.
\5. …

\6. (There) came to be a man
sent from God
his name was John.

>7. He came as a witness
so he might witness concerning the light.

/8. That one was not the light
but so he might witness concerning the light.

/9. The true light
who gives light to every human
is coming into the world.

vv 10-13 – The word in the world.
10. In the world he was
and the world through him came to be
and the world did not know him.

11. to his own things [neuter] he came
and his own people [masculine], him they did not receive.

12. but to whoever received him
he gave to them the authority to become children of God
to those believing in his name,

13. those not [born] from blood[s]
nor from (the) will of flesh
nor from (the) will of (a) male
but from God born.

vv 14-18 – Summary: iteration in reverse.
14. connects verse 1 & 14: the word became flesh.
We have seen his glory – theme!

15. John’s testimony: he who follows is greater than me because he was before me. What the..? Curiosity: read on to find more.

16. we’ve received grace from beginning to end. (from grace to grace)

17. Law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Finally, we are told the name of the incarnate word; although not directly. We infer, but the text implies.
Why is truth juxtaposed with law? (Grace, we can understand; but how does Christ reveal truth so powerfully that it’s connected with grace?)

18. God (accusative) no one has seen ever[; the] unique God [nominative] who[,] being at the side of the father[,] that one (nominative) made him known.

The words and punctuation in both brackets and parentheses are mine, to make the sentence more understandable. This is the first occurrence of monogenēs – unique – which most people understand as “only begotten”. Note here that the “unique God” is said to be at the side of the Father.

Here’s an interesting exercise: write the essentials of a resume for Jesus from 1:1-18 – note his name, age, title, nationality, qualifications, and experience.


[1] Whose members are known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[2] References for Colwell’s Rule.
Colwell, Ernest Cadman. “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament”. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 52, 1933, pp.12-21.
Harner, Philip. “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1”. Journal of Biblical Literature. Vol. 92, 1973, pp. 75-87.
Hartley, Donald E. Th.M, Ph.D (student), September 1998. Revisiting the Colwell Construction in Light of Mass/Count Nouns. Dallas Theological Seminary.
Kuehne, C. “The Greek Article and the Doctrine of Christ’s Deity.” Journal of Theology, Vol. 15, no. 1, 1975, pp. 8-22.
Kuehne, C. “A Postscript to Colwell’s Rule and John 1:1.” Journal of Theology, Vol. 15, No. 2, 1975, pp.20-22.