Genesis is the book of primeval origins, the book that establishes the foundation of the story the Bible is telling. It not only explains the origins of the world, but also sets the stage for the drama that occurs throughout the rest of Scripture. It’s no surprise, then, that echoes of it are found later on. The Gospels, in particular, have quite a few. Among my favorites is the first chapter of John.
John 1 points back to the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse is used to establish Christ’s deity. He is in the beginning with God, but he also is God. Throughout his writings, John comes across as something of a poet and a mystic, and it’s no surprise that he begins his Gospel with such a strange, seemingly paradoxical statement.
This verse not only lays the groundwork for distinguishing the Father and the Son while continuing to call them God, it also points towards their relationship. One is simply “God” and the other is the Word. A word is a thing spoken, something that proceeds from the mouth of another. Despite being coeternal with God, Christ is also, in some sense, derived from him. He is a Son to the Father.
In Hebrew, the book of Genesis is referred to as “Bereshith,” which is the first word of the text. It means “in the beginning.” By starting with that phrase, John points us back to the book of Genesis, and to the time of Genesis, but the passage also gives us something more. In the beginning was the Word. The Greek for “Word” here is logos.
To understand the significance of the word logos, you have to know that there are two Greek words that we might translate “word.” One is lexis, which means “word” in the way we usually mean. That is, a lexis is something you say, a sound that means something. Logos, on the other hand, isn’t simply “a word.” It’s where we get our word “logic,” and the “ology” that means “study of” in so many words like “Biology,” “Geology,” “Theology,” and the rest.
In Greek, the kind of Word that Christ is means something more like “reason” or “guiding principle.” Greek philosophers, and Greek-speaking Jewish ones, used the word to refer to the foundational structure of the universe, the basic laws by which it operates. For the Stoic philosophers, it was the animating principle of the universe, the thing that gave it all meaning and coherence.
So when John speaks of the logos in this verse, he’s giving the creation account a philosophical spin. In the beginning was the very principle that gives the universe order, and that principle was with God, and also was God. He goes on to say that all things were made by the Word, who is referred to as a “him,” and that nothing was made without him. Absolutely everything in existence is the creation of this divine, rational, ordering principle to the universe. Nothing falls outside of his design.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” This makes sense. The source of life, the source of meaning, is the very thing that would give us life. To be connected to that principle is what would allow us to live and flourish, and cut off from it, we would wither and die. To the created order, the Word is life. And not only is he life, he is also light. That is, he is what allows us to see, to understand. Looking at him, referring to him, the world makes sense. If he is the one who created it, who gives it order and coherence, then of course the best way to understand the world is by looking to him.
All this add depth to the Genesis story. Genesis 1 unfolds as the raw actions of a person we do not yet know. By the time John is written, the God of Genesis has rescued his people again and again, has made promises, has kept them, has cast down kings and raised up kings. We know so much more about him. Then John comes along to complicate that story. There is God as we have come to know him, but God is both God and the Word, and it was through the Word that God made the world. The character of God, the expression of God, is underlying principle of the world’s design.
But this is where the story takes a turn. “And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” There is a lack of light, a lack of the Word. The Word shines into it, to illuminate it, but it still doesn’t understand. Something is wrong.
But, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” This is John the Baptist, not the writer of the Gospel. “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.”
We have a prophet, sent by the Creator of the universe, the God of the Old Testament, to bear witness to God’s own Word. He is going to point men back towards the Light, so that we can “believe.” What that means is not quite clear yet. Believe what?
Of this Light, we learn that, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The problem of darkness is a major one. That principle that underlies the universe, that source of our life and understanding, we are so cut off from him that when he walks among us, we don’t even recognize it. We don’t know God himself when stands in our midst.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Here we find hope. Some do receive the Word, and these are “sons of God,” adopted by him, heirs of him, imitators of him. Their birth into sonship is not the ordinary kind of birth, which comes about from merely human desires and drives, but is the result of God’s own will, God’s own plan.
But this “not of blood,” and “not of flesh,” is not the whole story. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father,) full of grace and truth.” The very principle that gives the universe order, that gives it life, that makes it coherent and rational, took on flesh. He became man, became part of his creation. It is now possible to see the eternal, to look God himself in the face. God himself has hands, hands which can reach out, can touch, can heal, can embrace, and can chastise. God dwells among us, looking like us.
In this passage John reaches back to Genesis, adds depth to the story, and then pulls it forward to the Incarnation, the coming of Christ to dwell with his people. That is what we are celebrating at Christmas, an entering of the Creator into his creation. For those who receive him, that is a source of joy, of life, and of understanding. But what about those of “his own” who “receive him not?” We have not gotten to the Fall in this study of Genesis, and that is key for understanding the Incarnation. Darkness fell on a creation that was created by Light himself. How the Word deals with that is all-important.