The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Notes on John 1:2-5

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 18, 2010

To view the notes on 1:1 go here.

1:2  The same was in the beginning with God.
Hoc erat in principio apud Deum.

To emphasize the three great truths contained in verse 1: namely, the Word’s eternity, His distinct personality, and essential unity with the Father, they are repeated in verse 2.  The same, that is, this Word who is God, was in the beginning, and was with God.

Various attempts have been made by the Unitarians to escape the invincible argument for a Second Divine Person which these opening verses of our Gospel contain.  Thus, they put a full stop after the last “erat” of verse 1; and taking the words in the order in which they occur in the Greek and Latin, make the sense of the third clause: And God was.  Then they join “verbum,” the last word of verse 1, with verse 2: This Word was in the beginning with God.  But even if we granted to the Unitarians this punctuation of the verses, the sense of the third clause would still be that the Word was God, and not that God existed.  For “Deus” (Greek: Theos=God, without the article), in the beginning of the third clause ought still to be regarded as the predicate, with “verbum” (Word) of the preceding clauses as the subject.  This follows not merely from the absence of the Greek article already alluded to, but also from the absurdity of the Unitarian view, which supposes that St John thought it necessary, after telling us that the Word was with God, to tell us that God exists!

Others have tried to explain away the text thus: At the beginning of the Christian dispensation the Word existed, and the Word was most intimately united to God by love.  But, (1) they have still to explain how this Wrod is declared Creator in verses 3 and 10; (2) The statement in verse 14: “And the Word was made flesh,” implies transition of the Word to a state different from that in which He existed “in the beginning;” but the time of the transition is just the commencement of the Christian dispensation, which cannot, therefore, be the time referred to in verse 1 as “the beginning.”

1:3  All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.

Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est,

St John passes on to the relations of the Word with creatures.  all things (παντα= τα παντα in 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16).  The passages indicated, as well as verse 10 of this chapter: the world was made by Him, make it clear that the Son of God created all things.  Nor could this doctrine be more plainly stated than in the words before us: All things were made by Him, &c. How absurd, then, is the Socinian view, according to which St John merely tells us here that all Christian virtues were introduced, and the whole moral world established by Christ!

Were made γίνομαι (ginomai), i.e., got their whole being from Him, and not merely were fashioned by Him from pre-existing matter.  The Cerinthian theory, that the world was made by an inferior being, is here rejected.  By Him δι αυτου (dia autos).  We are not to suppose that the Word was an instrument in the hands of the Father, or inferior to the Father, as the Arians held.  The preposition dia (Lat.: per; Eng.: by) is often used in reference to a principal efficient cause.  Thus, St Paul says of the Father: “God is faithful, by whom you are called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9.  See also 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 4:27; Heb 2:10).  And since our Evangelist has just declared in verse 1 the Word’s divinity, and knew Him to be one with the Father (10:30), it cannot be implied here that the Word is inferior to the Father.  Some commentators hold that there is no special significance in the use here of the preposition dia, while others see in ti an allusion to the fact that the Son proceeds from the Father, and derives from Him His creative power, together with His essence, from the Father, and is not, therefore, like the Father, “Principium sine principio.”

Others think that since all things were created according to the Divine idea, i.e., according to the Divine and eternal wisdom, and since the Word is that wisdom, therefore all things are rightly said to have been created through the Word.  So St Thomas on this verse:-“Sic ergo Deus nihil facit nisi per conceptum sui intellectus, qui est sapientia ab aeterno concepta, scilicet Dei Verbum, et Dei Filius; et ideo impossible est quod alquid faciat nisi per Filium.”  In this view, which seems to us the most probable, though like all the Divine works that are “ad extra,” i.e., do not terminate in God Himself, creation is common to the three Divine Persons, yet, for the reason indicated, it is rightly said to be through the Son.

And without him was made nothing (εν  ουδε = not anything.  Emphatic for ονδεν = nothing) that was made (Gr.: hath been made).  By a Hebrew parallelism the same truth is repeated negatively: all things were made by Him, and nothing was made without Him.  To this negative statement, however, there is added, according to the method of pointing the passage common at present, an additional clause which gives us the meaning: nothing was made without Him, of all the things that have been made.  This restrictive clause may then be understood to imply that, together with the Word, there
was something else uncreated, that is to say (besides the Father, whose uncreated existence would be admitted by all) the Holy Ghost also.

In this way, after the Macedonian heresy arose in the middle of the fourth century, and blasphemously held that the Word had made the Holy Ghost, because without Him was made nothing, many of the Fathers replied : Nothing
was made without the Word, of the things that were made; but the Holy Ghost was not made at all, and is therefore not included among the things made by the Word. However, this restriction is not necessary to defend the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. Even though we understand it to be stated absolutely that nothing was made without the Son, no difficulty can follow; for the Holy Ghost
was not made (egeneto), but was (en) from all eternity, as is clearly implied elsewhere. John xvi. 13, 14.
On dogmatic grounds, therefore, there is no necessity for connecting: Quod factum, est> in the end of verse 3, with the preceding. And, as a matter
of fact, all the writers of the first three centuries seem to have connected these words with verse 4,* and it appears to us very likely, that it was because of the Macedonian heresy they began to be connected with verse 3. St. Chrysostom
certainly is very strong in connecting them with verse 3, but the reason is because the heretics of the time were abusing the other connection to support their errors.  “neither will we,”; he says, “put a full stop after that nothing, as the heretics” (Chrysostom on John, Horn. v). We must not, however, conclude, from this remark of St. Chrysostom that it was the heretics alone who did so ; for, as we have said already, such was the ordinary way of connecting the clauses during the first three centuries ; and it is supported not only by the
Fathers, but by the oldest Latin MSS., and by some of the oldest Greek MSS. And
that the usage of his time was against him, and that it waseven after the Macedonian heretics had abused this passage to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, the old pointing, or to speak more correctly the old method of connecting the clauses, remained the more common.! Not only did Cyril of Alexandria, and Augustine, and Venerable Bede, and St. Thomas, and a host of others read in this way, but Maldonatus, who himself prefers the connection in our English version: “Without Him was made nothing that was made”, admits then the practice to put a full stop after “nothing”: “Without Him was made nothing.”
Nor can the Sixtine or Clementine edition of the Vulgate be appealed to in favour of our present pointing. As a matter of fact, the Sixtine edition rejected it, printing thus : “Et sine ipso factum est nihil: quod factum est in ipso vita erat;” while the Clementine Bible left the matter undecided by printing thus:
“Et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est, in ipso vita erat,” &c. We cannot, therefore, understand to what Roman Bibles A Lapide refers when he says that the Bibles corrected at Rome connect thus: “And without Him was made
nothing that was made.”

We think it extremely probable, then, that the words: Quod factum est (that was made, or, as we shall render in our interpretation; what was made), standing at present in the end of verse 3, are to be connected with verse 4 Some may be inclined to blame us for departing from what is at present the received
connection of the words in such a well-known passage as this. Let usj therefore,
sum up briefly the evidence that has forced us, we may say reluctantly, to connect the words with verse 4.  Verse 4 reads: In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
i. Though Maldonatus tries to throw doubt upon the fact, this is the connection adopted by practically all, if not all, the Fathers and other writers of the first three centuries, and by the majority of writers afterwards down to the sixteenth century.

ii. It is supported by the oldest MSS. of the Vulgate, and, what is more remarkable, by some of the oldest Greek MSS., notwithstanding the fact that St. Chrysostom was against it.
iii. The parallelism in the verse is better brought out: All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing.
iv. If Quod factum est were intended to be connected with the preceding, the clause would be certainlyunnecessary, and apparently useless, because it is plain without it that the Evangelist is speaking of what was made, and not including any uncreated Being, like the Father or the Holy Ghost.

We prefer, then, to connect: Quod factum est, with what follows. But it still remains for us to inquire in what way precisely the connection is to be made, for various views have been held upon the subject.

A. Some connect thus: What was made in (i.e. by) Him, was life, and the life was the light of men. B. Others thus : What was made was life in Him, and the life was the light of men. C. Others again, adopting the same punctuation as in the preceding-, but understanding differently: What was made , in it was the Life, and the Life was the Light of men.

The last seems to us the correct view. For A is improbable, inasmuch as it either
declares all things to have life, or implies that though what was made by the Word had life, yet there were other things wanting life, which proceeded, as the Manichaeans held, from the evil principle.
Nor can we accept B, even as explained by St. Augustine in the sense that all created things are in the mind of God, as the house before building is in the mind of the architect; and that being in the mind of God they are God Himself,
and “life in Him.”  For though this is in a certain sense true, yet it seems to us unnatural to suppose that St. John here, in this sublime exordium, thinks it necessary or useful to tell us that the archetypes of created things lived in the Divine Mind.

C then appears to us to be the more probable view regarding the passage: “What was made, in it was the Life ;” or, more plainly: “In that which was made was the Life;” forhere,as elsewhere, St. John begins with the relative (see i. 45, i John i. i); so that, in this view, the Evangelist after telling us the relations
of the Word to all things at their beginning: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing,” now goes on to point out His relations to them after their creation: first, His relations with things generally: “In that which was made was the Life,” then his relations with man in the supernatural order: “And the Life was the Light of men.”
1:4  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

in ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum:

Adopting this view as to the connection between verses 3 and 4, St. Cyril of Alexandria thus explains: “The Life, that is to say, the Only-begotten Son of God, was in all things that were made. For He, being by nature life itself, imparts being, and life, and motion to the things that are … In all things that were made was the Life, that is, the Word which was in the beginning. The Word, being essential life, was mingling Himself by participation with all existing things.”

If it be objected to this interpretation that the first zoe (life) of verse 4, not having the article, cannot mean the Eternal Life, i.e. the Divine Word, we reply
that St. Cyril, one of the greatest of the Greek Fathers, thought differently; and moreover, that very many of the commentators who are against us in the interpretation of this passage, are yet with us in referring zoe here to the uncreated life of the Divine Word.

But if we follow what is at present the common punctuation, and read: “In Him was life,” this is commonly interpreted to mean thatthe Word is the source of supernatural life  toman. (Thus S.Amb., S.Ath., Tol.,Maid., A Lap., Patr., Beel).

But this view is not without difficulty. For, first, if it be merely meant that life comes to man through the Word, we might rather expect that the preposition dia of the preceding verse would have been retained.
Secondly, if there be question here of the Word as the life of man, how is it that it is only in the next clause that man is first mentioned? Surely, if the opinion we are considering were correct, we should rather expect St. John to have written: “In Him was the life of man, and the life was the light.” For these reasons, and because of what we have stated already in favour of connecting Quod factum est” with what follows, we prefer to understand this passage, with St. Cyril, as a statement that the Word, the Essential Life, was present in all things, conserving them in existence.
And the Life was the Light of men. In our view the meaning is that the Word, the Life, who conserved all things in existence, was, more over, in the case of men, their Light the source and author of their faith. Hence, we suppose St. John, after referring to the creation of all things, in verse 3, and the conservation of all things, in the beginning of verse 4, to pass on now in the end of verse 4 to speak of that new creation that is effected in man by means of a spiritual illumination: “All things were made by (or through) Him, and without Him was made nothing.  In that which was made was the Life, and the Life was the Light of men.”
Those who interpret the beginning of the verse to mean that the spiritual life of man comes through the Word, take the present clause as explaining how that was so, how the Word was the Life ; namely, inasmuch as He was the Light.  He was the source of our life of grace here and glory hereafter, inasmuch as He was the source of our light, that is to say, our faith.   And some of them, as Patrizi, hold that the order of the terms in this clause is inverted, and that we should
read: “the light of men was the life,” “light of men” being the subject.

Maldonatus tells us that almost all writers before his time understood “light of
men” in reference to the light of reason. However, this view is now generally abandoned, and rightly, for that man owed his reason to the Word has been already implied in verse 3: “All things were made by Him.”  Besides, the “light” of this fourth verse is doubtless the same as that of verse 5, which men did not

receive, and of verse 7, to which the Baptist was to bear witness.  But in neither of the latter verses can there be question of the light of reason; hence, neither is there in verse 4. The meaning, then, is that He who was the preserver of all things was moreover the source of the spiritual light of men.
1:5. And the light shineth.  The meaning is, that the Word, as the source and
author of faith, was always, as far as in Him lay, enlightening men. Shineth-the present tense is used, though the latter part of the verse shows that the past also is meant: “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness
did not comprehend it.”  Probably the Evangelist avoids using the past tense, lest it might be inferred that the Word had ceased to shine.  Besides, the present is more appropriate, seeing that, in the sense explained, the Word shines throughout all time.  From the beginning the Word shone, as far as in Him lay.  If men generally were not enlightened, it was their own fault. But all who were saved from the beginning, were saved through faith, and no one ever received the gift of faith except in view of the merits of the Word Incarnate.  “Nulli
unquam contigit vita nisi per lucem fidei, nulli lux fidei nisi intuitu Christi” (St. August.)
The darkness is man shrouded in unbelief. See Luke i. 79, Eph. v, 8.

And the darkness did not comprehend it.  As we have just said, the meaning is, that unbelieving men refused to be enlightened. Ordinarily, indeed, light cannot shine in darkness without dispelling it; but in this case the darkness was man, a free agent, capable of rejecting the light of faith through which the Eternal Word was shining. In telling us that men refused to be
enlightened, the Evangelist is stating what was the general rule, to which at all times there were noble exceptions.~Nolan and Brown

2 Responses to “Notes on John 1:2-5”

  1. Rob said

    Thanks, Dim. This was informative.

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