You are here

09. A Closer Look at John 1.1

Chapter 9:
A Closer Look at John 1.1

The vital need for “the renewing of the mind”

Having considered in some detail the roots of “the Word” in the Hebrew and Aramaic Bibles, we are now in a better position to consider “the Word” in John 1. In this chapter we shall study John 1.1 in three sections corresponding to the three phrases in this verse: (I) “In the beginning was the Word”, (II) “and the Word was with God”, (III) “and the Word was God”. In each section the standard trinitarian interpretations will be given as presented by some of their best scholars in the past. These interpret­ations will be examined and considered in the light of the OT Word and the Memra of the Aramaic Bible. But what it is nec­essary to understand, first and foremost, is that this is not merely a question of interpretation; if we think merely along this level we will have missed the spiritual roots of the whole matter. It is a matter which has to do with the fundamental difference between two totally different ways of thinking represented by trinitarian polytheism (three persons who are all equally God) on the one hand, and Biblical monotheism on the other. (The term “Biblical monotheism” is used to stress the fact that we are not concerned about whether there are, or have been, other religions who profess faith in only one God.)

It is most essential for us to bear in mind that the fundamen­tal difference of the way of thinking, the mindset, between poly­theism and monotheism makes them totally incompatible and irreconcil­able. Regardless of trinitarian attempts to formulate a distorted “mono­theism” to suit their dogma—and they do this because even the most determined or “dyed in the wool” trinitarian is uncomfort­ably aware of the fact that the Bible is undeniably monotheistic—Biblical mono­theism and trinitarianism have absol­utely nothing in common. This means that unless our minds are renewed (Ro.12.2) we shall not find it easy to make the transition from trinitarian polytheism to Biblical monotheism, because this is not a simple matter of learning to change our way of thinking at the rational or intellectual level, but a change of outlook at the spiritual level, for it ultimately concerns our relat­ion­ship with Yahweh God.

These two fundamentally different ways of thinking and of understanding the word of God can be conveniently illustrated by taking John 20.28 as a well-known example. Only someone with a polytheistic mentality can suppose that Thomas’ words “My Lord and my God” could be addressed to the man Christ (Messiah) Jesus. To a Jewish monotheist, as Thomas certainly was, this is utterly unthinkable. The only possible way in which Thomas could have uttered those words as directed to Jesus is if he recognized that it was none other than Yahweh who was personally embodied within the flesh or body of the man Jesus standing before him. In view of John 1.14, this is quite certainly the case. The decision, on the spiritual level, that each person individually must eventually make in regard to John 1.1,14 is: From which perspective, trinitar­ian polytheism or Biblical monotheism, am I going to understand these verses? Each person will then have to live with the conse­quences of that decision before “the Lord and His Christ” (Rev.11.15), or “God and His Christ” (Rev.12.10; cf. Acts 3.18).

(I) In the beginning was the Word (Logos)

We have already considered the Memra/Logos/Word in some detail. We now need to apply it to John 1.1, while also examining the trinitarian interpretations as we pro­ceed. But before we do this, there is an important aspect of Memra which we have not yet touched upon. The Memra is a metonym for Yahweh, as we have seen, but the metonym is not a simple sub­stitute for “Yahweh”, such that we could simply read “Yahweh” in place of Memra/Logos. Each metonym (such as Wisdom or Shekinah) denotes a specific characteristic of Yahweh special to that metonym. Failing to see this will result in missing an essential element in the intended message.

What is the special characteristic of Memra? Even a fairly cursory look at the way Word or Memra is used in the Hebrew and Aramaic Bibles shows that it represents the dynamic activity of Yahweh as expressive of His creative wisdom and power. Both wis­dom and power are realities within Yahweh, but they remain “latent” in Him until they come into action in Yahweh’s “works”, whether in the form of creation or revelation, or in whatever acti­vity He under­takes. Wisdom is that attribute in Yahweh which can be described in terms of his eternal plans or counsels, His under­standing of all things, His insight into the hearts and thoughts of man; it is that quality which governs and characterizes His “omniscience”. The Word or Memra is, by comparison, not an attribute of Yahweh but is the dynamic and powerful expression of Yahweh’s Wisdom when He chooses to express it in action. Power is another “latent” attribute of Yahweh which, in theological terms, is described as His “omnipo­tence”. This, too, comes into action through the Memra. The Memra can, therefore, be metapho­rically described as the expressive “agent” of Yahweh’s wisdom and power.

Life and love can also be considered as essential attributes of Yahweh since these are inalienable and fundamental aspects of His Person and character. These, too, find vigorous and vital express­ion through His Memra/Word. So it is evident that Memra is the concrete way of describing Yahweh in action, His self-expressive action. Hebrews 4.12 sums this up neatly by means of the vivid metaphorical description, “The word of God is living and active”; mentioning also that its work is penetrating in its depth and thoroughness, “it pene­trates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow”. God’s work is never shallow or superficial; we have already noted, for example, how He pays attention even to exqui­site details in His creative work of forming man.

Equipped with a clearer understanding of Memra, we are better able to understand the words, “In the beginning was the Word/ Memra”, for in Genesis 1 we see Yahweh’s dynamic creative Word in action bringing the universe and man into being. What also emerges from the fact that “in the beginning” is twice quoted in John 1 (vv.1,2) is that it is clearly intended to make a statement to the effect that through the Word/Memra Yahweh is bringing a new creation into being, which means a whole new way of life for mankind in Christ.

But the trinitarian church, having lost its connection to its Jewish roots and their Hebrew and Aramaic concepts, was trying to find an explanation for the Johannine Logos in the world of Greek ideas in which polytheism was endemic and practically inescapable.

The Logos derived from Greek philosophy?

For the benefit of those who have been immersed in trinitar­ian teaching, we shall examine this and other questions more closely than we have done previously.

As for Greek philosophy, while the idea of logos was known, it is important to understand that logos was not thought of as an hypo­stasis or person. This fact is stated concisely by Prof. Wither­ington III,

“It is interesting that in the Greek-speaking world there was among the Stoics some speculation about a logos as well, but they under­stood it to refer to a sort of divine rational prin­ciple or moral structure to all of the universe, not to a personal being. One can argue that the evangelist has chosen terminology familiar to both Jews and Greeks, but he does not use it in a Stoic way.” (Ben Witherington III, Jesus the Sage, p.285, footnote 136, italics mine.)

Accordingly, Witherington states, “It is quite unnecessary to posit a Stoic background for the material in John 1” (p.285). This means that there exists no direct link to Greek thought where the idea of the logos is concerned. The article on ‘Logos’ in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) confirms Witherington’s obser­vations.

Was the Logos idea borrowed or adapted from Philo?

Concerning Philo’s ideas about the Logos, ISBE (art. ‘Logos’) concludes: “After all has been said, his [Philo’s] Logos really resolves itself into a group of Divine ideas, and is conceived, not as a distinct person, but as the thought of God which is expressed in the rational order of the visible universe.” (Italics added)

In any case, there is little, if any, basis for assuming that John knew Greek philosophy, or that he was acquainted with the writ­ings of the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria in Egypt, who used Greek philosophical ideas to interpret the Logos. We simply have no reason to assume that John was a scholar who might have been acquainted with prevailing philosophies. As ISBE (art. ‘Logos’) puts it, “It is hardly probable that John was directly acquainted with the writings of Philo.” The article goes on, moreover, to state: “So far from the apostle being a disciple of the Alexandrian [Philo] or a borrower of his ideas, it would be more correct to say that there is clearly a conscious rejection of the Philonic conception, and that the logos (λογος) of John is a deliberate protest against what he must have regarded as the inadequate and misleading philosophy of Greece.” The article then goes on to delineate the fundamental differences between the Johannine Logos and Philo’s notions of it.

But because there are simply no references to “the Word” as an actual person in the OT, trinitarians are obliged to look else­where for the idea of a Word or Logos which is both a person distinct from God and yet also co-equal with Him. Such an idea could not be found within monotheistic Judaism, not even in the Hellenistic-Jewish religious philosophy of the Alexandrian Jew Philo who, though he used the Greek idea of the Logos to introduce Jewish ideas to the Greek speaking world, was not prepared to surrender his monotheism—much to the disappointment of trinitar­ians. Yet, astonishingly, some are still prepared to assert that John did what his fellow-Jew Philo refused to do! These trinitarian scholars have decided that John had ceased to be a monotheist and had become a trinitarian, even though John acknowledges that his own Lord and Master Jesus Christ was a monotheist who spoke of the Father as “the only true God” (John 17.3).

The trinitarian interpretation of Logos in John 1.1 is left with­out support because of the fact that the Logos was not conceived of as being a person either in Greek philosophy or in Philo. More­over, even assuming that the Logos was essentially a Greek philosophical idea, it would be extremely strange that John would have resorted to a philosophical term to describe Jesus. Moreover, how many of his readers would have been conversant with Greek philosophy and/or with Philo? How many people today, including educated people, know anything about philosophy? But what is decisive is the fact that the Logos in Greek philosophy was never conceived of as a person, so it is useless for trinitarianism.

The point is simply this: Even assuming that John had somehow become acquainted with Philo’s religious philosophy, and even if Philo’s Logos was a personal being, would that provide any basis for supposing that John derived his Logos from Philo? Surely not. Then how do the discussions in trinitarian writings about Philo have any substantial relevance for our understanding of the Johan­nine Logos? Such discussions are often a measure of the desperat­ion of trinit­arians to clutch at any straw that might lend some credibility to their interpretation, even if it is no more than to suggest that perhaps John’s Logos was an adaptation of Philo’s. This is hardly a solid basis for constructing a dogma which the church has decreed to be foundational for the Christian faith!

Was John’s Logos of Gnostic origin?

Such a question might make early church historians frown because they know that Gnosticism was regarded as a mortal threat by the early church. We consider the question for the sake of the complete­ness of our inquiry into the origins of the Johannine Logos, and to show that even in early Gnosticism the Logos was not regarded as a personal divine being.

Some scholars have raised the question whether John may have derived the idea of Logos from what B.D. Alexander called “incipient Gnosticism” (ISBE art. ‘Logos’). Early Gnosticism is thought to have been current already at the time of the writing of John’s gospel (cf. the anti-docetic pronouncements in 1Jo.4.2; 2Jo.1.7). Docetism main­tained that the body of Jesus was not really flesh and blood, but only appeared to be so (Gk: doketai, to seem or appear to be). That was why Jesus, according to them, could not actually have been crucified—it only appeared as though he was (this idea is still used today in Islamic teaching about Jesus’ crucifixion). Alexander did not think that John’s use of the Logos was influenced by early Gnosticism, and most scholars would agree with him.

In any case, this suggestion would be of no use to trinitarian­ism because also in Gnosticism the Logos was not a personal being. Kurt Rudolf wrote:

“The manner in which the redeeming function of the Logos is seen to operate without assuming any personal figure is shown by the Hermetic texts already mentioned (where however the ‘understanding’ [Gk: nous] has the same function), but also very impressively by the Nag Hammadi document ‘The Original Teaching’ [Gnostic texts].” In these, the non-personal Logos functions “like a medicament” for “the truly sick” soul. (K. Rudolf, Gnosis, p.144; italics mine)

Gnosticism was a mixture or synthesis of Eastern (mainly Iranian) and Western (Greek) philosophical and religious ideas. Salvation was by means of a special “knowledge” (Greek: gnosis) which Gnosticism claimed to impart.

This system of teaching became popular and influential during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD in the form of “Christian Gnosticism” as taught by able teachers such as Basilides, Valentinus, Theo­dotus, and Bardesanes. At one time it became so widespread that some church leaders, notably Irenaeus, saw it as a serious threat. Though “Christ­ian Gnosticism” did not teach that Christ was equal to God, it did teach that he was a preexistent being (Rudolf, Gnosis, p.154, etc). Though the leaders of the Nicene church rejected the Christian Gnostics on some main issues (e.g. Docetism, mentioned above), they did at least agree with them on this last point. But it is quite certain that no trinitarian scholar would care to acknow­ledge that the trinit­arian interpretation of the Logos owes anything to Gnosticism.

Is Jesus “The Word of God” in the New Testament?

Christians frequently speak of Jesus as “the Word of God”, having all along been taught that Jesus is the Logos, the Word. It came to me as something of a shock to discover that the title “the Word of God” is not applied to Jesus in any of the gospels (not even in John 1) nor in any of the epistles, because as a trinitarian I had always assumed it to be a title of his. The only place where it appears as a name or title in the NT is in Rev.19.13, where it refers to the rider on a white horse (cf. Rev.6.2), who trinitarians want to assume to be Jesus, even though he is not mentioned in the immed­iate context; but if the earlier riders were symbols of famine, plagues, and death, it is most likely that here too “the Word of God” refers to the message of the gospel, which is what the term usually means in the NT.[46]

The term “the word of God” occurs 43 times in the Bible, 39 of which are in the NT, none of which are applied to Christ as a title. Even in Revelation where the term occurs 5 times, 4 of these def­initely have the meaning “the message of the gospel” as in the rest of the NT. There is, therefore, no NT basis for assuming that Rev.19.13 is a lone exception and refers to Christ. The only way we could make it refer to Christ in this verse would be to interpret the term “Word of God” as the message of the gospel embodied in Christ. But that would admittedly be interpretation not exegesis. This interpretation is questioned by Dr. R.H. Charles in his author­itative two-volume commentary on Revelation in the International Critical Commentary series.

What all this means is that trinitarianism has no viable explan­ation for the Logos/Word in John 1.1; a meaningful exegesis con­sistent with the context is conspicuous by its absence. The use of Ps.33.6 is exegetically acceptable, but it does not provide any support whatsoever for interpreting the Word as “God the Son”. We shall now study the meaning of the Word within the NT itself.

The parallel wording in 1John 1.1f

In the commentaries, I have not noticed in their discussion of the meaning of the Logos in John 1.1 that proper account is taken of 1John 1.1,2 which, on closer inspection, provides both a parallel to, and a commentary on, John 1.1. Let us look at it more carefully:

1John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word (logos) of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us”.

The parallel with John 1.1 is obvious from the reference to “the beginning”, while the Logos, significantly, is explained as being the “logos of life”. Thus the Logos is linked to or identified with life (“living and active” Heb.4.12), for in the next verse it is simply called “the life”, which is then further described as “the eternal life”, i.e. God’s life.

Moreover, when we compare 1John 1.1,2 where the word of life “was with the Father” with John 1.1 “the Word was with God” (“was with”, ἦν πρὸς, are exactly the same words in both verses), it emerges clearly that the “God” being referred to is “the Father”. How then can it be assumed that though “God” in John 1.1 refers to the Father in the statement, “and the Word was with God (the Father)” yet in the very next statement, “the Word was God”, “God” is no longer the Father but “God the Son”—a concept which simply does not exist in Scripture? To acknowledge that “God” means the Father, as 1John 1.2 makes perfectly clear, and then to insist that the very next reference to “God” in the same verse no longer refers to the Father, is undoubtedly to do violence to Script­ure. Yet this is, sadly, the unscrupulous way in which trinitarianism treats Scripture.

The same phrase “the word of life” (ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς), exact­ly as in 1John 1.1, appears also in Philippians 2.16 where there is no suggestion whatever that the reference is to a person. As is the case with “the logos of God” in the NT generally, it means “the message of life”; and here again we see that “God” and “life” are in parallel in these two phrases: “the word of God”= “the word of life”.

But if it is indeed the case that the correct understanding of John 1.1 is that the Logos has to do with the Father (Yahweh), then what else can John 1.14 mean other than that it was Yahweh Himself in the form of the Word (Logos) who came into the world in Christ? Thus the astonishing (yet possible, in view of Yahweh’s appearances in the OT, esp. Genesis) conclusion emerges that it was the Father who came into the world in the man Christ Jesus to accomplish the salvation of mankind. The error of trinitarianism is that it replaced the Father with an unknown (in Scripture) “God the Son”. By this means they sidelined Yahweh from the center of mankind’s salvation, relegating Him to a relatively peripheral role, while Christ as “God the Son” (who they claim is His equal in every respect) takes center stage. If this is not heresy where Scripture is concerned, then what is?

It now becomes clearer why trinitarian commentators would have a problem with 1John 1.1 in regard to the question of the identity of the Logos; for if we rephrase John 1.1 to read “In the beginning was the Life (or eternal life)”, it is hardly conceivable that Life could be thought of as something or someone distinct from God as an inde­pendent person. Life, after all, is something integral to the very Being of God—just as Word is the expression of His innermost being and character. “Life” is constantly connected with God in the Scriptures. “Life of God” is a term used in Ephes­ians 4.18. Psalm 36:9 sums up beautifully the Biblical teaching that God is life and the source of all life, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

We have seen that in 1John1.1 the Logos is “the logos of life” which, in the next verse, is simply spoken of as “the life” and then explained more fully as “the eternal life”. It thus becomes clear that the Logos is the expression and the conveyor of eternal life. But what now also becomes evident is that, because this “life” in the NT is closely associated with many other important spiritual realities such as light, truth, grace (both within John 1 and also in the rest of the NT), the phrase “the word of life” can just as correctly be read as “the word of truth” (Ps.119.43; Col.1.5, “the word of the truth, the gospel”: “the word of truth” = the message of the gospel; Eph.1.13, “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”= the word, or message, of salvation), “the word of grace” (Acts 14.3; 20.32 “the word of His grace”).

From this we can see that life, truth, gospel, salvation, and grace all come to expression through the Word/Logos; this is im­portant for our understanding of the Logos in John 1.1. For it is precisely God’s saving grace which is manifested to mankind in Christ: “his (God’s) own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which (“His purpose/grace”) now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (2Tim.1.9,10).[47]

2Timothy 1.10 says that God’s purpose/grace has now been “manifested”. This is exactly the same word which appears twice in 1John 1.2 where it is stated that life has been “manifested”, and this eternal life “was with the Father”—notice again the exact corres­pondence in the Greek of the “was with (pros)” here to the same words in John 1.1. Thus, the manifesting of eternal life in 1John 1.2 corresponds precisely with the manifesting of God’s purpose/grace in 1Timothy 1.9,10.

Within the Prologue of John 1 the association of life with light is seen in v.4, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” In v.14 “the Logos became flesh” in Christ, that is, life and light were made tangible and visible (1Jo.1.1) in the person of Christ, in whom Yahweh’s glory is revealed (“made manifest”, 1Jo.1.2) and seen as being “full of grace and truth” (Jo.1.14). Grace and truth are charact­eristics of the Logos. But it must be carefully noticed that Christ is not himself “grace and truth”, but that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v.17) in the same way as “the Law was given through Moses” in the same verse. Moses was not the Law, but it came through him. However, Moses was not the embodiment of the Law, but the one who delivered it to Israel; in contrast to this, the Memra/Logos was embodied in Christ.

(II) “The Word was with God”

The Trinitarian interpretation of the “with” (pros) in John 1.1

What evidence is there that the Logos can be considered a divine person distinct from God? Well, the trinitarian argument hangs on the one little word pros (“with”) or rather how it is translated and interpreted by them. It is absolutely essential for trinitarian dogma that pros must be translated as “with” in the specific sense of “to be with”. For trinitarianism insists that “with God” must mean that the Word is thereby shown to be a person distinct from Him so as to be “with” Him. But does “with Him” necessarily mean that an­other distinct person is implied? Then what about Wisdom being with (para) God in Proverbs 8.30, where para is equivalent to pros when speaking in personalized terms? That pros with accusative (as in Jo.1.1) is equivalent to para is not something uncommon in the NT, as the following reference confirms:

pros with accusative: taking the place of παρά [para] after εἰμι [eimi] etc.: e.g. Mt 13.56 πρὸς ὑμᾶς εἰσιν [pros humas eisin], 26.18, 55 vl, Mk.6.3; Jn 1.1, etc.” (A Grammar of New Testament Greek, J.H. Moulton, Vol. III, N. Turner, p.274; underlining added).

This means that we cannot make more of the “with (pros) God” in John 1.1 than Wisdom being “with (para) God” in Proverbs 8.30. What coherent response can (and should) trinitarianism make to this solid exegetical fact other than to acknowledge its error? Their whole dogma hangs essentially on a pros! Though there is far more evidence of trinitarianism’s error than the erroneous interpretation of pros, in this section we shall concentrate chiefly on this word so crucial to their dogma.

If the personal, individualized interpretation of pros cannot be sustained, then neither can the trinitarian argument based on John 1.1 be kept intact. But if someone is determined to disregard all the facts, what can be done but to leave him to his errors? I cer­tainly would not want to build my faith on sinking sand. The trag­edy was, however, that we did not realize that we were building on interpret­ative sand; the ground appeared to us to be solid enough at the time, and there were no lack of “expositions” reinforcing this serious misconception.

A fairly typical example of a trinitarian “exposition” of “with” (pros) can be found in Expositor’s Commentary. On pros in Jo.1.1 it says, “The preposition ‘with’ in the phrase ‘the Word was with God’ indicates both equality and distinction of identity along with associat­ion. The phrase can be rendered ‘face to face with.’” Here it is baldly stated that pros “indicates…equality” without a shred of evidence given to support such a weighty statement. Trinitarianism is simply read into the text without any regard for factual accuracy. Disregard for truth results in falsehood being spread from generation to generation and from place to place.

Trinitarian dogma overrides concern for what the text is act­ually saying. Even a glance at any of the major Greek-English lexi­cons will show that none of them suggests that pros “indicates equality”, nor even the idea of “face to face”. Moreover, “face to face” does not indi­cate equality either. Can a servant not stand before his master face to face, or a soldier before his commanding officer? Can it be that adher­ence to trinitarianism can result in the loss of both common sense and basic logic?

Furthermore, the phrase pros ton theon (πρὸς τὸν θεόν) is not unique to Jo.1.1 in the NT. Had this commentator in Expositor’s Commentary made the necessary effort to check the use of this phrase, he would have found that it occurs no less than 20 times in the NT (John 1:1,2; 13:3; Acts 4:24; 12:5; 24:16; Rom. 5:1; 10:1; 15:17,30; 2Cor. 3:4; 13:7; Phil. 4:6; 1Thess. 1:8f; Heb. 2:17; 5:1; 1John 3:21; Rev. 12:5; 13:6) and not one instance of these “indicates equality” or the idea of being “face to face”. Most of these references speak of praying to (pros) God, while Ro.5.1 speaks of “peace with (pros) God”. What can be said regarding all these references is that they speak of an act or action (prayer) or a new state of life (peace) relating to God.

Pros—Are dictionaries always objective?

Let us take the following example. BDAG takes pros (πρὸς) in John 1.1 as meaning to “be (in company) with” someone. But it must be borne in mind that “with” is not the only possible translation of pros. It is not even its primary meaning, as a look into any Greek dictionary (including BDAG) or grammar will show. If we refer to BDAG, it is interesting to note that the defin­ition of pros is given under three sections, the last being the longest one, and only in a subsection at the end of this long section, in the last of many subsections, is the definition “be with” given—and specifically applied to John 1.1. This shows that “with” is definitely not the primary meaning of pros. So the inquiring mind cannot help but ask: Why should only the definition “with” apply to pros in John 1.1to the exclusion of all other possible meanings of the word? It seems hard to escape the conclusion that the choice of this part­icular definition is likely to be doctrinally motivated. It must be kept in mind that the editors of most, and perhaps all, dictionaries and lexicons of the NT are (like myself) from trinitarian back­grounds.

Pros in John 1.1 can, in fact, be understood in one of its other meanings (as we shall see, for the sake of the completeness of our study of this verse), but there is exegetically no problem accepting the definition of pros as “be with”, because the monotheistic exposition of John 1.1 (in contrast to trinitarianism) is not absol­utely bound to one particular definition of pros.

But accepting the meaning “be with” actually proves nothing for trinitarianism. Wisdom in Proverbs is the most important exam­ple of this. It is well known that a close parallel to Jo.1.1 is found in Prov.8.30, “I was beside (LXX, para) him, like a master work­man, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.” Para is closer to the idea of “be with” than is pros. We saw that the definition of pros as “be with” is found only in the last subsection of a series of sections in BDAG; in contrast to this a major definition of para in BDAG is given as: “marker of nearness in space, at/by (the side of), beside, near, with, according to the standpoint from which the relationship is viewed.”

Wisdom in Proverbs is described in terms of a personal being, though the language is meant metaphorically. C.K. Barrett recog­nized the importance which Prov.8.30 has for the understanding of John 1.1. He sees that Wisdom and Torah are identified in rabbinic teaching, and thought that “such notions are the root of John’s statement” (The Gospel according to John, p.129f).

Since Meyer affirms the “strict monotheism of the N.T.” (Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of John, p.68) what does he mean by the Logos “as a divine being”? He maintains that by the Logos (ὁ λόγος) is meant “the self-revelation of the divine essence, before all time immanent in God, but for the act of creation proceed­ing hypostatically from Him—which divine self-revelation appeared bodily in the man Jesus, and accomplished the work of the redempt­ion of the world” (Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the NT, John, p.66f; italics his). How can “the self-revelation of the divine essence” be “a divine being” distinct from Yahweh? It is often difficult to make much sense of trinitarian speech.

By translating kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon (καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν) as “and the Word was with God”, only one of the relevant meanings of pros has been selected, obviously because this accords best with trinitarianism which, of course, is the doctrinal position of the translators. But John was certainly no trinitarian, so how can we be sure that this correctly represents what he intended to say? What would the words mean if we took that aspect of pros which BDAG describes as “with reference/regard to”? It would read, “And the Word had reference to God (i.e. Yahweh)”; this would mean “‘the Word’ referred to ‘God’ (Yahweh)”, thus providing an explanation of who “the Word” is, who is here being referred to, namely, “Yahweh”.

Meyer recognized this meaning as a valid possibility but, as might be expected from a trinitarian, rejected it because he rightly perceived that this would mean that the Logos/Word is “a peri­phrasis for God” as he put it. Commenting on the phrase “And the Word was God” (kai theos ēn ho logos) Meyer writes,

 “This θεός [theos] can only be the predicate, not the subject, which would contradict the preced­ing ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν [ēn pros ton theon, was with God], because the conception of the λόγος [logos/word] would be only a periphrasis for God” (the quotation is given exactly as it stands in Meyer; the words in square brackets and italics in the last phrase are mine).

If theos is a predicate in relation to the Logos in this phrase[48], Meyer sees that the Word would be a periphrasis for God. For example, if instead of “the Word was God” it reads, “the Good was God”, then “the Good” is (indirectly) another name for God. He sees this as contradicting the previous phrase which he assumes means “the Word was with God” in the trinitarian sense. But it would contradict that phrase only if it is first given a trinitarian interpretation. Under­stood in the light of monotheism there would be no contradiction at all.

Thus, if pros in the phrase “the Word was pros God (Yahweh)” is taken as meaning “with reference or regard to” (i.e. “the Word re­ferred to God”) then it functions in an explanatory way, with the result that “the Word” (the Memra) is indeed “a periphrasis for God” (as Meyer rightly observed), and the next phrase “the Word was God” would serve to confirm and emphasize this to be the case. Even so, let it again be affirmed that the monotheistic understanding of John 1.1 is not dependent on this particular definition of pros. Defining pros as “with” gives monotheism no problems at all because this would be to understand the Word in the same hypostatized way as Wisdom in Proverbs, particularly Proverbs 8.30. Unlike trinitarianism, mono­theism is not at the mercy of one particular definition of this preposition.

As for Meyer’s argument, he thought he had resolved the supposed “contradiction” by interpreting the two phrases as, “He was with God, and possessed of a divine nature” (italics his), which is the standard trinitarian interpretation. But notice carefully that “God” in John’s text is thereby reduced to meaning “a divine nature”, a nature or “substance” in which three persons are said to participate accord­ing to trinitarianism. So the price paid for inter­preting “with” in such a way as to extract an argument for a distinct divine person who is thus said to be “with God” as “God the Son” is the depersonalizing of the very concept of God itself, which is now spoken of in terms of a “nature”.

Another trinitarian argument based on pros

Another typical trinitarian explanation of “the Word was with God” is that given in The Expositor’s Greek Testament by Marcus Dods: “πρὸς [pros] implies not merely existence alongside of but personal intercourse. It means more than μετά [meta] or παρά [para], and is regularly employed in expressing the presence of one person with another. Thus in classical Greek, τὴν πρὸς Σωκράτην συνουσίαν [tēn pros Sōkratēn sunousian], and in the N.T. Mk.6.3, Mt.13.56, Mk.9.19, Gal.1.18, 2 John 12. This preposition implies intercourse and therefore separ­ate personality.”

This is, sadly, the kind of “exposition” (Note the title: “Expositor’s Greek Testament”) on which trinitarianism is built: the whole argument here is again built on the word pros. Let us exam­ine the evidence presented. Dods quotes a phrase from classical Greek, but he evidently fails to see that it is actually the word συνουσία [sunousia], not πρὸς [pros], which accounts for “express­ing the presence of one person with another” in this phrase. This is clear from a look at Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon: “συνουσία [sunousia], , (συνών, συνοῦσα, part. of σύνειμι) a being with, social intercourse, society, conversation, communion”. The abridged Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon has, “being with or together; a living together, social intercourse” etc. Interestingly, Liddell and Scott (unabridged ed.) also quote an example from Sophocles about Socrates (which appears to be the same one quoted by Dods) which they translate as “their inter­course with him”. What all this means is that Dods claimed for pros the meaning which is actually already in sunousia! Another sadly erroneous argument.

Dods claimed that pros “means more than μετά [meta] or παρα [para]” yet does not provide a single piece of evidence to support this exaggerated claim. Then he goes on to make the further claim that pros “is regularly employed in expressing the presence of one person with another”, apparently suggesting that the idea of “persons” is implied in pros. Regularly? Yet he manages to give only five examples from the NT, of which two are Synoptic parallels: Mk.6.3 par. Mt.13.56:

Mark 6.3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and bro­ther of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with (pros) us?" And they took offense at him.” (ESV)

A look at this verse should immediately make it clear that the reference to persons is in the text, not in the preposition pros. Jesus’ sisters are present in the town of Nazareth where this event takes place, and in this sense they are present among the people who are speaking in this verse. But nothing whatever can be demonstrated from this verse regarding the alleged “personal intercourse” said to be implied in the preposition pros. So it would be fallacious to assume from this verse that the speaker(s) had any personal acquaintance with Jesus’ sisters. All that can be reasonably deduced is that they knew that the sisters lived in their neighborhood.

The situation is the same in all the remaining three NT examples given by Dods: The persons are, in each case, in the text itself, not in the preposition. The last example, 2 John 12, demonstrates this point graphically: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to (pros) face, so that our joy may be complete.” (ESV) “Face to face” is not implied in pros, but are the actual words of this particular verse. As in all the previous examp­les, the context itself has to do with persons, here made the more specific by “face to (pros) face” (not face with face), which in the Greek is literally “mouth to mouth”.

Quite apart from these examples, the fact, put in more general terms, is that prepositions cannot in and of themselves imply personal relations, because they can just as readily be used of imper­sonal matters.

Trinitarians would have benefited from taking note of the basic definition of a preposition: “Words that combine with a noun or pronoun to form a phrase are termed prepositions” (Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2005). Given the nature and function of prepositions, it should be clear that the noun or pronoun with which the preposition is combined is not necessarily one that refers to a person, but can just as readily refer to a thing or an event. Herein lies the fundamental error of the trinitarian argument from John 1.1,2 based on the preposition pros.

For the sake of completeness, consider the fact that pros appears 700 times in the NT (of which nearly 300 times are in Luke-Acts, and 102 times in John’s gospel) yet Dods manages to find only 5 examples to support his case, none of which actually support it, as we have seen. To base the case for the existence of a second person in the Divinity on this sort of argument is truly pathetic in the extreme. Worse than that, how is the average person (even including those sufficiently equipped in basic Greek to be able to use such a work as The Expositor’s Greek New Testa­ment) able to discern the errors of this kind of “exposition”?

Pros is, as we have noted, a very common preposition not only in the Greek NT, but also in the Greek OT (LXX, including apocry­pha) where it occurs 4381 times. Given these facts, what exactly is the excuse for making the fallacious claims for pros which Dods and others make in support of trinitarian dogma? We claim the Scriptures to be the word of God, yet we dare to treat it in this kind of contempt­ible manner for the sake of a creed. Does this not remind us of what Jesus said, “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mk.7.13, NIV)?

Even the phrase pros ton theon (as in Jo.1.1,2) occurs fairly frequently in the Greek Bible: about 70 times in the LXX and 20 times in the NT, and is usually translated as “to God”. By far the most frequent use of this term has to do with prayer or suppli­cation to God, that is, it has mainly to do with a person or persons addressing God; sometimes, though rarely, it refers to a particular relationship with God (e.g. Ro.5.1, “peace with God”). As previous­ly noted, the personal element is in the phrase and its context, not in the preposition itself.

“Theos” as divine nature?

But where in the NT does “God” ever mean “divine nature” or “substance”? The Greek-English Lexicons do not provide any instance in the NT where theos (θέος), God, means “divine nature”. “Divine nature” represents a different concept in Greek, such as expressed by theiotēs (θειότης), defined by Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, as “divine nature, divinity”, or Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT,divinity, as essence”. The attempt by trinitarians to dissolve God’s Being and Person into theiotēs can properly be considered as dishonest handling of the word of God. Whether trinitarians like it or not, it is intellectually and morally fraudulent to read theiotēs (θειότης) into the text where theos (θέος) stands. Just how bad can misinterpretation and eisegesis get?

There are those who argue that the word “God” in the last phrase of Jo.1.1 (“the Word was God”) is anarthrous (without the article “the”) and may therefore be understood not as the person but as the nature of God. This, too, is without basis in the NT. BDAG (θέος, section 3) substantiates the fact that in the NT God is referred to both with or without the definite article; it reads: “3. God in Israelite/Christian monotheistic perspective, God the predom. use, sometimes with, sometimes without the article”. Of the many examples given, John 1.18a (“no one has ever seen God”) is an example within the Johannine Prologue itself of “God” without the definite article, and no scholar is likely to want to suggest that it is to be understood here as “divine nature”, so why should it be understood in this way in John 1.1?

Pros as a Semitism

What has rarely, if ever, been noticed in Bible comment­aries is the Semitic (Hebrew), and possibly Aramaic, origin of pros in John 1. Dr. Nigel Turner wrote: “πρὸς [pros] with accusative meaning with, Jn 1.1; 1Jn 1.2, is a Semit­ism and it may be due to the Aramaic lewath.” (N. Turner, in A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by J.H. Moulton, Vol.4, p.71 and reaffirmed on pp.13 and 93; this is in a section on “Aramaisms” in a chapter (ch.5) on “The Style of John”.)

The importance of this observation about pros as a Semitism (and Turner mentions many others in John) is that it points strongly in the direction that, not only the Logos, but possibly the whole hymn in the Johannine Prologue is also to be understood as having a Semitic or Aramaic origin.

Turner also described the phrase “full of grace and truth” in John 1.14 as a Hebraism (Moulton, Grammar, Vol.4, p.68). “Glory” in the same verse is another Hebraism: “Glory ([Jo] 1.14 and 16 times [in John]) is one of those terms which radically changed meaning through Hebrew influence; originally doxa was good repute, but it became also visible splendour because in the LXX it rendered kabhodh (honour, glory) and such words as hodh (splendour)” (Moulton, Grammar, Vol.4, p.69). This also serves to confirm the identification of the Word/Memra with the Shekinah glory in John 1.14.

These observations together go to show that the origins of the meanings of key words in the Johannine Prologue (i.e. Jo.1.1-18) are not to be sought in some Hellenistic (Greek) source but in the Hebrew and Aramaic sources which were close to hand for John.

We have earlier noted that pros can have a referential mean­ing or it can also mean “with” in the sense of being “together with”. The latter is the only one acceptable in the trinitarian interpretation. In view of the Dr. Turner’s observation that pros in John 1.1 is likely to be a Semitism, and also in view of the generally accepted affirmations of scholars that the Johannine Prologue is or contains a hymn we can, for these two reasons, accept the understanding of pros as meaning “with”, especially because in a hymn or poem the Word is most likely to be hypostasized, that is, described in terms of being a person, just like Wisdom in Proverbs.

If, however, the view of the Johannine Prologue as being a hymn or poem is rejected, that does not at all affect the mono­theistic under­standing of John 1.1, because then pros can be understood in its referential sense. What this means is that there is a “built-in” safeguard in this verse such that it does not depend on one particular view of the Prologue to establish its meaning.

Further detailed examination of pros in view of the trinitarian dependence upon it

The pros in John 1.1 is the key to the trinitarian argument for the Logos as a “divine hypostasis” as Barrett calls it. In a context where people are the subject, pros can indeed mean “with”; but it must first be established that John 1.1 is about different persons, rather than assuming that in advance. For whether or not different persons (in this case, whether the Logos and God are two different persons) are the subject in John 1.1 is precisely what has first to be determined, rather than presumed. Where different per­sons are not the subject, the meaning of pros (here with the accusative) has to be determined by its context.

The phrase “with God” (pros ton theon), like the phrase “in the beginning”, occurs twice in the first two verses of John’s Gospel. How is it to be understood? As noted earlier, there are 20 occurrences (or 18 excluding Jo.1.1,2) of this phrase in the NT:

(1) In many instances it speaks of praying “to God” (e.g. Ac.4.24; 12.5; Ro.10.1; 15.30; 2Cor.13.7; Phil.4.6).

(2) Of good conscience towards God, Ac.24.16;

(3) Peace with God, Ro.5.1;

(4) Confidence toward God through Christ, 2Cor.3.4; 1John 3.21;

(5) Faith in God, 1Th.1.8;

(6) Things pertaining to God, Heb.2.17; 5.1.

The general context of the 18 statements in which the phrase pros ton theon occurs consistently has to do with man’s personal relat­ionship with God, but an examination of each of their sentence structures shows that the word pros itself does not have to do directly with persons as such, but rather with aspects of their spiritual and emotional life, specifically, with their prayers (1, above), good conscience (2), peace (3), confidence (4), and faith (5) with reference to God. This again confirms the fact that the idea of “person” cannot be extracted from the preposition pros but is found in the context in which pros stands.

Furthermore, in none of the 18 instances does the phrase pros ton theon have the meaning to “be with God”. When Paul, for example, speaks of his desire to depart and “be with Christ” (Phil.1.23) he uses sun (σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι), not pros. These words of Paul are particularly relevant to Jo.1.1,2 because in both instances the verb “to be” is used; in Phil.1.23 it is in the present tense (einai, εἶναι) and in Jo.1.1 in the imperfect tense (ēn, ἦν).

What all this means is that if pros ton theon is to be under­stood as being “with God” in John 1.1, then it is not used in its usual sense, and there seems to be only one explanation for this, namely, that “the Word” is also not used in its usual sense in the NT as being a “message (the Gospel)” or simply something spoken, but in a unique sense which is that here “the Word” is used in the same hypostatized or personified way like Wisdom in Proverbs and in Jesus’ sayings (Mat.11.19; Lk.7.35; 11.49). There does not ap­pear to be any other way to explain the use of both Word and pros in John 1.1 that is consistent with the use of these words in the New Testament as a whole. That the Word in John 1.1,2 is poet­ically portrayed (like Wisdom) as a person who was “with God” “in the beginning” is Scripturally unpro­blematic. The problem only arises when trinitarianism insists on interpreting the poetical des­cription in a literal way. It would be equally disastrous if Proverbs were interpreted in this way.

We read in Matthew 1.23: ‘“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” {Isaiah 7:14}—which means, “God with us”’ (NIV); here “with” is not pros but meta.

The referential aspect of pros

For the sake of completeness and thoroughness in examining this central argument on which trinitarianism is based and, so to speak “leave no stone unturned”, I will also mention that there are other occurrences of pros with the accusative where the meaning is clearly referential, for example,

Ro.10.21: “But concerning (pros) Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate peo­ple.’” {Isaiah 65:2; NIV}

Heb.1.7-8 (x2): “In speaking of (pros) the angels he says … But about (pros) the Son he says, ….”

Mt.27.14: “But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge (pros oude), so that the governor was greatly amazed.”

Lk.14.6: “And they could not reply to these things (pros tauta).”

For the referential use of pros with accusative see also A Concise Exegetical Grammar of NT Greek, by J. Harold Greenlee, Eerdmans, p.43, where under the meaning “Pertaining to”, Greenlee cites Heb.1.7, “In speaking of (pros) the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire’ {Psalm 104:4}” (NIV) and Heb. 5.1, “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God (pros ton theon—exactly as in John 1.1!), to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” The exact correspondence of the phrase pros ton theon in Hebrews 5.1 with John 1.1 can be considered to settle once and for all the meaning of the phrase in favor of its being referential. Even so, it may not be reasonable to shut out the possibility that pros in John 1.1 could have the meaning “with” in the sense in which it is applied to Wisdom in Proverbs 8.30 although, admittedly, this possibility is considerably weakened in view of Hebrews 5.1. [49]

Understood in the referential sense, the phrase “the Word was pros God” would mean “the Word had reference to God”, i.e. the Word was a way of referring to, or speaking about, God. This is in fact the case with the Memra (the Word), as we have seen, so it would confirm to the reader of John that by “the Word” the “Memra” is meant. This would also make it clear that the words “in the beginning was the Word” was not a reference to some other divine being called “Word” (of whose existence there is no evid­ence), but referred to the one true God in terms of His creative and self-revelatory Word and, as such, served as a metonym for Yahweh God.

Even so, I have earlier indicated that the monotheistic under­standing of John 1.1. is not exclusively dependent on one specific meaning of pros. Monotheism is equally comfortable with pros as meaning “with”, thereby understanding Word (Logos, Memra) as being “with God” just as Wisdom was with Him in the beginning (Prov.8.30). And just as Wisdom could serve as a metonym for God (cf. Lk.11.49), the Word as a metonym for Yahweh God can also be described in personalized language.

The situation is completely different for trinitarianism. It depends on one particular interpretation of pros. Now we can clearly understand why translation involves interpretation, and often de­pends entirely upon it to make a particular case. When pros is translated as “with” (with the intention of implying refer­ence to an second person), it has already been interpreted in a specific sense, because one of several possible meanings has been selected and the other meanings rejected. This also means that no translation gives the meaning of the original without having interpreted it. A word or phrase can have a variety of possible meanings and nuances; which of these are chosen by the translator is to a great extent determined by the doctrinal prefer­ences of that translator. As might be expected, he chooses the meanings which accord with his dogmatic inclinations; he would hardly choose those which run counter to those inclinations even if they would be equally correct as a translation. We can better appreciate why Muslims have always maintained that only the Arabic Qur’an is authoritative, and translations are not.


[46] On Rev.19.13 see the fuller discussion in Appendix 6.

[47] God’s “purpose and grace” are both feminine in Greek; the word “which” occurs twice in this verse and translates words in the Greek which are in the feminine singular, thus corresponding to the feminine of “purpose and grace”; the singular points either to purpose or to grace, or to both understood as one single concept.

[48] Barrett also wrote, “θεὸς [theos], being without the article, is predicative and describes the nature of the Word”.

[49] In the 18 occurrences (mentioned above) of the phrase pros ton theon (excluding for the moment Jo.1.1,2 ) it is the referential meaning of pros with the accusative which appears. This referential aspect of pros is, of course, well documented in all the standard Greek-English lexicons. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, for example, describes this aspect as that “of relation or reference to any person or thing”; BADG Greek-English Lexicon: “to indicate a connect­ion by marking a point of reference, with reference/regard to” (italics theirs).


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church