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The Apologists Bible Commentary
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|1||In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.|
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objection: The following appears on a popular Bible Students website:
response: To make sure I understand the argument presented, let me summarize in my own words: The Beginning in John 1:1 is the absolute beginning of creation. I infer this because the author says that if John wanted to prove that the Logos was God, he would have written that the Logos existed BEFORE the beginning. But, according to the author, John doesn't say that the Logos existed BEFORE the beginning but rather AT or IN the beginning. If the Logos was there BEFORE the beginning, that would strengthen the Trinitarian's position. The fact that He is NOT before the beginning weakens it.
I have asked several Bible Students to comment on this summary, and none have objected. If I have misunderstood the quotation, I invite correction by email.
I'm far from a Greek scholar, but I have studied the language a bit, and I think there may be an aspect of Greek grammar that the author of this article may have overlooked or been unaware.
John 1:1a reads in the Greek EN ARXEi HN hO LOGOS. The form of the verb EIMI ("to be") here is HN ("was"). It is in the "imperfect" tense. The imperfect bears the sense of "continuous or linear existence in past time" (_The Analytical Greek New Testament_, Timothy and Barbara Friberg). The use of this tense is significant. It tells us that in the time period in question ("The Beginning"), the Logos was in continuous existence. That is, there is no hint of His coming INTO existence in this time period.
I want to be clear because some Trinitarian apologists have misstated the case, in my view. It is not the imperfect HN in and of itself that signifies the eternality of the Logos. Imperfect HN is used all over the place in the NT without meaning that its referent is eternal. However, when John uses this tense in the context of "the Beginning," which the author of the article seems to agree is the absolute beginning of creation, John DOES teach that the Logos pre-existed all creation, and thus is True God. This is the force of the imperfect form of EIMI. There is no hint in John's language that the Logos was created. John could easily have used a form of the verb EGENTO ("to become") as he does in verse 14, had he wished to do so. Instead, he consciously echoes the language of Genesis 1:1, and places the Logos in that same creation event. But, while EN ARXEi EGENTO hO LOGOS would teach without question that the Logos came to be in the beginning, what John actually wrote - EN ARXEi HN hO LOGOS - teaches that the Logos was already there.
The criterion that the author of the article quoted above says is required to demonstrate that the Logos is (true) God has, in fact, been met by John's language. The Logos was already in existence "in the Beginning," and thus can be no other than true God.
Here is a sample of scholars who discuss the semantic force of the imperfect HN in John 1:1. These examples can be multiplied:
Was (EN). Three times in this sentence John uses this imperfect of EIMI to be which conveys no idea of origin for God or for the Logos, simply continuous existence. Quite a different verb (EGENETO, became) appears in verse 14 for the beginning of the Incarnation of the Logos (RWP).
The expression in Greek "characterizes Christ as preexistent, thus defining the nature of his person" (Dana and Mantey) (quoted in Phillip Comfort, NT editor, The New Commentary on the Whole Bible).
HN, was, denoting absolute existence (compare EIMI, I am, John 8:58) instead of EGENETO, came into being, or began to be, which is used in vv. 3, 14, of the coming into being of creation and of the Word becoming flesh (Vincent's Word Studies)
The preexistence of the Word is strongly brought out by the phrase EN ARXE HN hO LOGOS, "in the beginning was the word". Arche according to H. Bietenhard "is an important term in Gk. philosophy," which means, among other things, "starting point, original beginning" (DNTT, 1:164). By itself, this may not seem too significant, for few would debate that we are dealing with the "original beginning." It is the presence of the verb HN, "was" that brings out the importance of this phrase. Literally, it could and should be rendered "When the beginning began, the Word was already there." This is the sense of HN, which is in the imperfect tense, and implies continuing existence in the past. So before the beginning began, the Word was already in existence. This is tantamount to saying that the Word predates time or Creation (EBC).
Before God's utterance of that first, formative word which called the universe into existence and fashioned from raw matter the habitable world on which we live, that Person destined to be God's active agent in all things existed as and with God. This is emphasized in the text by the use of HN, "was." Three times in this verse John uses this term, the imperfect tense of the verb EIMI, rather than a form of the verb EGENETO. EIMI and HN simply describe continuing existence; EGENETO indicates becoming. In the beginning the Word, as God, already enjoyed a timeless existence, without beginning and without end (Victor Bible Background Commentary).
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