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John the Baptist was a prophet sent by God to testify about the man Jesus Christ, not about a pre-incarnate 2nd person of the Trinity, nor about a pre-Genesis abstract plan of God.
A commentary on the Gospel of John 1:4-8.
(that which came to be) in him was life,
See podcast #29 commenting on John 1:2-3 where I understand the verb at the end of verse 3 to go with the beginning of verse 4: “that which came to be in him was life”. Just as through the first man Adam, also through the second man, Jesus, life came to be. John’s Gospel is concerned with the resurrection, eternal life of the next age that came to be in the man Jesus Christ.
and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I think these verses negate any interpretation of John 1 that posits that the Logos, the Word is either a divine figure or an abstract idea which was involved in the Genesis 1 creation. Go ahead, read John 1:4-13 and see if you think that the man Christ Jesus and his ministry is being introduced, or is John the Baptist testifying about a pre-human person or concept.
It should be evident to everyone that while the words life and light in John 1:4-5 have parallels to the Genesis creation, the Genesis creation is not under discussion here. Instead, the life and the light here in John 1:4-5 directly refer to the man Christ Jesus, who is the subject of this Gospel. Sure, there are intentional parallels to the light of Genesis 1 and also of Exodus 10, but John 1 directly describes the light that still shines in the life of the raised from the dead man, Christ Jesus.
Those who insist that the phrase “in the beginning” of John 1:1 refers directly to the Genesis creation, and that the Gospel of John’s Prologue is a commentary on Genesis creation, I think even unconsciously know the topic switched somehow from the supposed Genesis creation in the first three verses of John’s Gospel, to the life and light of men, the man Jesus Christ, that shines in the darkness, described here in verses 4 and 5. Why is the life and the light and the darkness here in John 1:4-5 not also the life and light and the darkness mentioned in Genesis 1:3, 4, 5. Why in Genesis did light precede human life, but here in John’s Gospel the life was the light of men?
The truth is, the life and light and darkness of John 1:4-5 is not the life and light and darkness of Genesis 1. Rather, it is the life and light in the man Jesus Christ that still shines in the darkness.
Is this not obvious? Again, the life and light and darkness described in John 1:4-5 relate to the man Christ Jesus, not to the Genesis creation.
In the person that the Gospel of John is describing was life, resurrection life. And that resurrection life was light, and that light was the light of men. That light still continues to shine. The darkness did not overcome it. Folks, the topic is God’s work in Jesus Christ, not the Genesis creation.
Jump ahead for just a second, to verses 6-8, where we are told that John the Baptizer was not the light. Shouldn’t that be rather obvious that John the Baptizer was not the light of Genesis 1:3 (or of Exodus 10:23)?
The appearance of John the Baptizer at all in John 1:6-8 is problematic for any Genesis creation interpretation of John 1. The declaration that John the Baptizer was not the light is an insurmountable exegetical road-block for any Genesis creation interpretation of John 1. Here, early in the Prologue, John the Baptizer is being contrasted not with the light of Genesis 1, but with the person whose name will be given shortly, the man Jesus Christ.
In verses 8 and 9 we learn that John the Baptizer “was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (John 1:8-9). John the Baptizer “was not the light”. Well, you don’t say? The Baptizer wasn’t the light that preceded and was involved in the creation of the universe? We can certainly be glad that the author of the Gospel of clarified that for us! I’m being sarcastic of course. John the Baptizer was being contrasted not with the light of Genesis chapter 1, but with a person whom this Gospel is about, the man Christ Jesus.
Let’s say that again. John the Baptizer is not being contrasted with the light of Genesis chapter 1. Neither did John the Baptizer come to bear witness to the light of Genesis chapter 1. John the Baptizer came to bear witness to the light, the man Jesus Christ. There should be no doubt that the Prologue of John is introducing the life and light that was in the man Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ was life, and his life was the light of men.
Let’s come back to verse 4. This life that the Gospel presents “was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it”. How does this verse apply to the Genesis creation account? The simple answer is, it doesn’t. It applies to the life and light in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Verse 5 says “the light shines in the darkness”. Note the present tense verb, the first present tense verb in this Gospel. In the Prologue the author is in the main introducing and summarizing real events that happened in the past – real events which he is about to describe in more detail in his Gospel. But these real events connected to the life of Jesus reveal to us who God is. And the life of Jesus on earth which happened in the real past continues to affect the present. “The light shines in the darkness.” That is, the light of revelation, of promise and hope for mankind that the ministry and life of the raised-from-the-dead man Jesus Christ gives to human beings, still shines. The work of God through the man Jesus Christ is the light that still shines in the darkness, not Genesis 1 life and light.
In verse 9 there is another present tense verb connected with the shining light. “the true light that enlightens every man”. This is Jesus Christ, the light that enlightens every (kind of) man. This is not Genesis 1 light.
One other important observation from verse 5. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
the darkness did not overcome it
The verb here is not easy to translate. Some English translations have “the darkness did not comprehend it”. But it is best to understand the verb as “overcome”. Let me read a note from the New English Translation Bible that I see agrees with other commentators on this word:
For it (the word) to mean this (“comprehend”), "darkness" must be understood as meaning "certain people," or perhaps "humanity" at large, darkened in understanding. But in John's usage, darkness is not normally used of people or a group of people. Rather it usually signifies the evil environment or 'sphere' in which people find themselves: "They loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:19). Those who follow Jesus do not walk in darkness (8:12). They are to walk while they have light, lest the darkness "overtake/overcome" them (12:35, same verb as here). For John, with his set of symbols and imagery, darkness is not something which seeks to "understand (comprehend)" the light, but represents the forces of evil which seek to "overcome (conquer)" it.
This verb, “overcome” is in a Greek tense, called aorist, which is best understood as refering to a single occasion in the past: “darkness did not overcome it” a specific point in time. What the author of the Gospel most likely has in mind here is the death by crucixion of Jesus Christ at Calvary. There the light of life came into conflict with the darkness of death and darkness did not prevail. Darkness did not overcome it.
The commandment of God for mankind, eternal life (John 12:50) and the light of hope that commandment gives to mankind, all the forces of darkness together could not annul.
This is exactly the kind of thing we hear the apostles Peter and Paul describe over and over again in their sermons in the Book of Acts. “Jesus the Messiah was put to death, but God, the God of our Fathers raised him from the dead. He is alive!” (Acts 2:22-24, 3:15-17, 4:10, 5:30-31, 10:38-40, 13:28-33, etc).
So here we have already in John 1:5 a reference to Calvary, the death and resurrection of the man Jesus Christ. Darkness did not overcome the light. Jesus was raised from the dead. The light shines in the darkness.
It is interesting to see the deity of Christ theologians commenting on these passages in John 1. Some may try to interpret these verses in the context of the Genesis creation, but they inevitably forget that they are supposed to interpret all these verses in John 1 as describing the Genesis creation. They see the man and ministry of Jesus Christ being laid out before them here – because it is obvious that is who the Gospel is introducing. And the deity of Christ interpreters also tend to forget that all these verses describing Jesus and the Baptizer occur before the supposed “incarnation birth of God”, which they take to occur in verse 14.
The Gospel of John is not introducing the life, light and darkness of Genesis 1 or of some other period in Israel’s history. The life, light and darkness of John 1 allude to and parallel Genesis and the light for Israel in Egypt, but John is not directly commenting on Genesis or the Exodus.
We might ask: Why did the author of the Gospel of John make allusions to Genesis and Exodus with words like life, light and darkness? I suggest an answer: Because the author shows the continuity between Old Testament sacred history and the New Testament. The God who made and gave life and light to his people in both Genesis and Exodus, “the God of our fathers” as He is called in the New Testament, is the same God who brought life and light to mankind through Jesus Christ. We might put it this way: the God of Jesus is the God of Moses.
In addition, we might wonder why the author of this Gospel begins by referring to Jesus with symbols and metaphors like “the Word”, “life” and “light”. I suggest there are at least two reasons:
1. In this Gospel the author liked to apply metaphorical and symbolic language to Jesus to make spiritual truths concrete. The author described Jesus as “the lamb, the bread, the door, the shepherd, the way, the truth, the life, the resurrection”. So also using a term like Logos (Word) as a title for Jesus shows that the human Jesus is the communication or revelation of God to humankind. Like the “word” in the Old Testament, Jesus is the source of re-creation “life” for humankind (Psa. 33:6, John 1:3, 10-13), and Jesus is the revelation “light” that gives hope and leads to salvation (Jer. 1:4-5, 9; John 1:4-5, 9, 14, 18).
2. The author introduced Jesus as “the word”, the “life” and “light” here in the Prologue as he is preparing to give more details in the body of his Gospel to prove how the man Christ Jesus is the Word, the life and the light.
The Words and Themes in the Prologue are Elucidated in the Body of the Gospel of John
Many of the words and themes that the Prologue introduces are repeated and developed in the body of the Gospel of John, and are associated specifically to the man Jesus the Messiah. This is evidence that the Logos and other terms of the Prologue refer to the man Jesus Christ and not to some pre-creation person or concept.
All these words and ideas of the Prologue: the beginning, word, life, light, darkness, the Baptizer’s testimony, and more phrases about to appear in the Prologue, like “coming into the world, coming to his own, his own not receiving him, some did receive him, believe in his name, being born of God” - all these concepts are introduced in the first 13 verses of the Prologue, and then expanded in the body of the Gospel in connection to Jesus and his ministry.
Let’s keep in mind, all these ideas are applied to Jesus Christ in the prologue before he supposedly “became flesh” in vs. 14, as the deity of Christ interpretation would have us believe. That the ministry of the man Jesus Christ is surveyed in John 1:1-13 is irreconcilable with the deity of Christ interpretation that John 1:14 supposedly describes the birth incarnation of “God the Son.” Could it be that verse 14, “the word was flesh” doesn’t mean what deity of Christ proponents think it means?
In any case, the introduction of words and themes like life and light and darkness in the Prologue of John’s Gospel, which are then applied to Jesus and his ministry in the body of the Gospel of John, is evidence that the Prologue is as well describing the man Jesus Christ.
For example, take the word life, which is mentioned two times here in verse 4: “in him was life, and the life was the light of men”. We find the word “life” some 45 more times in the body of the Gospel of John. Life is a very important theme to this Gospel writer. And life in this Gospel is most often the eternal life that is associated with the ministry and person of the man Jesus Christ.
A few examples:
Whoever believes in the one whom God sent will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:15-16).
“As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26).
Jesus told those who opposed him, “you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).
“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48).
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
It just doesn’t do justice to the author of the Gospel of John to think that the life being introduced in the Prologue is not the same life that he attributes to the man Jesus Christ in the body of the Gospel. The parallel statements between the Prologue and subsequent chapters of the Gospel of John tie the prologue directly to the rest of the Gospel. This is unavoidable evidence that the Prologue is about the person, the man Jesus Christ.
Light and Darkness
We see the same link between the light and darkness introduced in the Prologue to the light and darkness reiterated in the body of the Gospel.
In John chapter 1, the author mentions the light in verses 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9. That’s five verses out of the 18 verses of the prologue. We see in verses 6-8 that John the Baptizer wasn’t the light, but came to bear witness to the light. Then (guess what?), in the body of the Gospel we are told explicitly that the man Jesus Christ is the light.
John 3:19-20 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
John 8:12 Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
John 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
John 12:35-36 So Jesus said to them, "The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overcome you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."
John 12:46 I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness (cf. 12:35, 3:20).
The life, light and darkness of the Gospel of John which are introduced in the Prologue, and reiterated in the body of the Gospel, are the light and life associated with the man Christ Jesus in a dark world, not the life, light and darkness of Genesis 1. It seems that anyone who interprets John chapter 1 as referring to the Genesis creation is either ignoring or has forgotten the words of Jesus in John 8:12: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Let’s move on to John 1:6-8 as we will contemplate again why John the Baptizer is introduced so early in John’s Gospel, just like he is in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This one came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
1. The entire Prologue, including “in the beginning” in John 1:1 is not the Genesis beginning, but the new beginning in Jesus. As we’ve looked at in podast #7 “John 1:1, Jesus is the Beginning of God’s New Creation”, the phrase “the beginning” in the Gospel of John and in many other places in the New Testament refers not to the Genesis creation but to the new beginning inaugurated with Jesus.
That the ministry of John the Baptizer is explicitly introduced so early in John’s Prologue is also very strong evidence that:
2. the Logos in 1:1 and the light in 1:4 are references to the human person Jesus the Messiah, who will be named in verse 17. John the Baptizer came to bear witness to Jesus, not abstract or pre-incarnate light. John the Baptist is contrasted and said specifically not to be that light. It’s pretty obvious that the Gospel is not comparing John to the light in Genesis 1, but to the man whom this Gospel calls the light of the world, Jesus Christ.
For anyone who thinks that John 1 is describing the Genesis creation, John’s presence in verses 6-8 in the Prologue is a strange, out of place interruption. One might even say an embarrassment. Let me quote well-respected evangelical scholar Leon Morris, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel According to John (p. 87):
“It is curious at first sight that there should be this mention of John the Baptist in the Prologue. There is no difficulty about his appearing in the narrative sections, but it is certainly perplexing to find him in this brief introduction to the teaching of the Gospel.”
I suggest the Baptizer’s early appearance in the Prologue is “curious” and “perplexing” to commentators like Leon Morris because they have brought incorrect presuppositions to the text, thinking that the Gospel begins with a description of the Genesis creation. If “the beginning” that Gospel of John opens with is the same beginning as the beginning in the other Gospels – the new beginning in the Gospel of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth, then it makes perfect sense why the Baptizer is introduced here in the Prologue and given such a prominent place in the rest of chapter 1.
The Baptizer is a central feature in the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, not in the Genesis creation. There is nothing “curious” or “perplexing” about the Baptizer’s presence in John 1:6-8. That the Baptizer’s ministry is so early and prominently put forth in the Prologue is strong evidence that the Prologue is about the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, and that the Word and Light of the Prologue are the person, Jesus the Messiah, who is named in 1:17.
1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
The word translated as “was”, “there was a man sent from God” is the same word that is translated with “deity of Christ” bias as “was made”, even “was created” in verse 3. But the word does not have any sense of “being created from nothing”. There is no Greek word “created” or “was created” in John chapter 1. English translations that give a creation sense to the word in verse 3 and 10 are biased. As we have seen in podcast #29, verse 3 is better translated as “all things that happened, or came about through him”; not, “all things were made through him.”
As seen here in verse 6 the word is best translated as “was”, or “came to be”, “happened”, or “came on the scene”. “There was a man…”
sent from God To be sent from God does not carry with it any connotation of pre-existence. Rather, to be “sent from God” means to be commissioned, authorized and equipped of God. The prophets were sent by God. Not only the prophet John was sent from God, but one of the main themes of this Gospel is that Jesus the Messiah is sent by God.
As we have already described in podcast #29, “this one” of verse 7 contrasts with “this one” in verse 2. In verse 2 “this one”, the Word was with God, and in him was life and light. But here in verse 7, by contrast, “this one”, the prophet John, was sent from God to bear witness about the light. The contrast between “this one” in verse 2 and “this one” in verse 7 is a contrast between two human persons, Jesus and John.
The verb tenses of came and to bear witness about the light relate that the testimony of John is already done, an accomplished historical fact. This is the sense of most of the verbs in John’s Prologue. The author is introducing the events associated with the life of Jesus that occurred in the not too distant past. The few exceptions where present tense verbs appear show how the accomplished historical events associated with Jesus have bearing on the present, like “the light shines in the darkness”.
that all might believe through him
through him…There is ambiguity has to whom “him” refers: through Jesus (the light) or through the Baptizer. It is best to understood as through the Baptizer, who testified about and pointed people to the man Christ Jesus. People could believe in Jesus Christ through John’s testimony.
8 He was not the light,
Let’s reiterate one more time that the author is not contrasting John the Baptizer with a pre-incarnate person, nor a pre-incarnate concept, but with the man Christ Jesus, who we know in this Gospel is the light of the world. It would be silly for the author to clarify for us that John the Baptizer was not the light, if the light referred to either a pre-incarnate person or abstract idea present at the Genesis creation. Rather, the contrast between the prophet John the Baptizer and the light makes perfect sense if John is being compared to the man Jesus Christ.
but came to bear witness about the light.
John did not come to bear witness to a pre-incarnate, Genesis creation light. Rather, the prophet John bore witness to the light of the world, the son of God, the lamb of God, the man Jesus the Messiah from Nazareth.
The life and light in the darkness introduced in John 1:4-5 refer to the man Jesus Christ and his ministry in the darkness which mankind finds himself in, not to the Genesis creation. The man and ministry of Jesus the Messiah is life in which is light that still shines.
The darkness tried to overcome the light, by putting Jesus Christ to death on a cross. But the darkness was not able to overcome the light, as Jesus’s death led to resurrection into eternal life. “the darkness did not overcome the light” is a reference already in John 1:5 to the death and resurrection of the man Jesus Christ from Nazareth, not to some pre-Genesis event.
The reiteration in the body of the Gospel of terms used in the Prologue, like word, life, light, and darkness, is evidence that the Prologue is introducing the man and ministry of Jesus the Messiah from Nazareth. The man Jesus Christ from Nazareth is the light of the world. Whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Interpreting John 1 as describing the Genesis creation doesn’t work, or ends up being confusion and contradiction since somewhere between verse 3 and verse 4 the author supposedly switched from the describing the Genesis creation to introducing the life of light in the person he is about to describe, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Also, the deity of Christ interpretation is confusing as it must postulate that that the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptizer being described in verses 3-13 are described before the supposed incarnation described in John 1:14.
A much better way to understand all of the Prologue of the Gospel of John is to interpret it as an introduction to the man Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who is the main topic of the book. The testimony ministry of John the Baptizer has no business being introduced in 1:6-8, 1:15 and 1:19-34 if “the beginning” of John 1:1 refers directly to the Genesis creation as the Greek philosophers understood it, referring to some pre-human “Logos”, some pre-human “Word”.
Rather, the ministry of John the Baptizer, his testimony to the light, and the contrast statement that John was not the light, is evidence that the prologue is about the man Jesus and his ministry, and that “the beginning” of John 1:1 is the new beginning of God in the life of the Messiah Jesus.
Bill Schlegel, One God Report Podcast