John Part One: Deep Dive
THE DEITY OF CHRIST AND THE TRINITY | RUBEN MICHAEL ELS
R.C. Sproul says that there is no other passage in the New testament that so emphatically captured the hearts and minds of the Christian intellectual community for the first three centuries. We can easily see why that is the case. Sproul also states that this passage, more than any other, is foundational for the church’s affirmation and confession of the doctrine of the Trinity.
The main purpose of John’s writing is to make a case for the identity of Jesus, and in doing so, inspire saving faith in the one and only Son of God resulting in eternal life (John 20:31). In the opening lines, we see him making a very bold statement, which is in keeping with his goal in presenting Jesus as the one and only Son of God sent from Heaven, who is above all creation and is, in fact, the Creative Hand behind the whole show.
What we see here in the opening lines is three statements being affirmed which attest to Jesus’ identity:
1. Jesus’ Preexistence (In the Beginning was the Word)
Referring here to the absolute beginning before all creation, and to avoid misinterpretation, John declares in verse three that all things were made through Him, thereby excluding Him from all that is in the ‘made’ category, that is created beings, and again emphasizing the point that without Him nothing in the ‘made’ category would have been made.
2. His Distinctiveness (the Word was with God)
The Word (Jesus) is to be distinguished from God, as John is declaring His distinction of being. The word ‘with’ here indicates a distinct personhood that is separate from God the Father but not only indicates distinction but also an essence of equality. It can be rendered as ‘face to face with’.
3. His Deity (and the Word was God)
Although being separate from God, the Word (Jesus) is identified as one with Divine, that He is, in fact, the I AM (Exodus 3:14, John 8:58). The word ‘theos’ here refers to the One who is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. It is usually reserved to refer to God the Father and yet we find it here referencing Jesus’ deity.
These three affirmations together make one powerful case for the Trinity but John isn’t done just yet. The very next line (verse two) emphasizes the point again, that the Word was with God in the beginning. John is trying to make sure that we don’t miss the magnitude of what he has just said.
If Wayne Grudem is right, that the doctrine of the Trinity is progressively revealed in scripture, then this passage (John 1:1-3) would have to be the climax that attests to Jesus’ preexistence, distinctiveness and deity as a member of the Trinitarian God of the Christian faith.
J 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine (Chapters 14 & 26)
John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Cristian Belief (Chapters 20 & 37)