John 1.1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
These familiar words have been regarded as perhaps the most explicit statement of Jesus’ divinity. Whenever you get into a discussion of Jesus’ identity, John 1.1 is inevitably brought to discussion as it is one of the clearest, most resounding statements about Jesus being God.
There is one little problem. This isn’t exactly what John 1.1 says. Certainly, Jesus being God is true from what we read in John 1.1 insofar as it goes. The problem however is the way that orthodoxy has controlled the reading of John 1.1 to be a proof-text for Nicene Christology. While any reading of John 1.1 that rejects the Nicene Christology is off track, John 1.1 isn’t directly about saying that Jesus, who is the Word, is God. It is about something different and more profound that when taken to be true entails the divinity of Jesus.
Much emphasis is taken on “The Word was God” (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος). However, if we take a closer look at the Old Testament, it is not unusual to identify various figures with God/YHWH, such as the man who wrestled with Jacob or angels who proclaim messages from God. To that end, it would be fitting to suggest that these figures were also ‘God.” However, it is best to understand these figures as mediating God rather than directly God, as if they are extension of God’s authority and power. Where the real crux of the matter is in “the Word was with God” (ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν), which removes any notion of mediation. The Word was with God; He was not an extension of God that crosses over the barrier between the heavens and the earth, but He was with God in the beginning of creation.
The second and third statements of John 1.1 combine to say something: the Word spoken in Genesis 1 is not some figure that represents God, but He is God’s own direct self-expression. The Word exactly represents God. This is what allows John 1.14-18 to make sense: God’s direct self-expression comes in the form of flesh, allowing people to move from Torah to grace through Jesus the Son as the one who makes God’s known. No longer does one need a of knowledge about God mediated through Moses because in Jesus Christ God directly expresses Himself.
Here Word/λόγος is more than just a reference to a specific ontological entity or even a literary reference to the God’s speech in Genesis 1, but it provides a description of Jesus’ ultimate identity as God’s expression. This idea, then, frames the whole of the Gospel of John which seeks to teach one overarching idea: in demonstrating that Jesus is the unique Son of God, one can now come to know the shape of God’s love in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The very love of God that is testified repeatedly throughout the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament has been given flesh and become tangibly understandable and known through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus is God, most certainly. But for the Gospel of John, it is trying to say something even more profound with tremendous implications: Jesus is God’s direct self-expression of who He is. Jesus’ personality is God’s personality. So, believe in Him so as to listen, learn, and follow Him. In believing in Him, one will be ushered into the life that is had with God, just as Adam and Eve originally enjoyed.