The word ‘logos
‘ simply means ‘word’ (whether spoken, written or thought) but can also mean something more abstract, like ‘reason’. We must allow John to use it naturally, without imposing theological meanings on his text. The natural connection here is to Proverbs 8, with its language of personified wisdom. John most likely has this in mind when he speaks of the logos
as being ‘with God... in the beginning.’
Trinitarian translators have traditionally referred to the logos
as ‘he’ in John 1:1-3, despite there being no reason to assume literal personality. The word translated ‘he’ is the Greek pronoun ‘autos
‘, having three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. In John 1: 1-3 it is masculine, agreeing with logos
, a masculine noun. This is grammatical gender, not personal gender. It does not tell us the logos
is a person, so we can read ‘autos
‘ as ‘it’, as it appeared in at least five 16th Century Protestant Bibles (e.g. Tyndale's).
Of course Jesus is later called ‘the Word of God’ in Revelation 19:13, but this is a prophetic reference not in the same context as John's gospel. Elsewhere in Revelation Jesus is distinguished from
the Word of God, particularly in 20:4 (‘those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God
The phrase ‘...and the word was God’ is usually claimed to suggest the logos
is a person. However, ‘theos
‘ (‘God’) here can be taken in a qualitative sense; thus Paul M. Dixon (The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John
, Dallas Seminary, 1975) and Daniel B. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics
, Zondervan, 1997).
Wallace's ‘qualitative logos
‘ argument is motivated primarily by his own Christology, assuming the logos
is Christ pre-existent. Thus, rather than ‘the logos
was divine’, as some translators (e.g. Moffatt New Translation
, 1922; Original New Testament
, 1985) Wallace prefers ‘the word was fully God’, as in the NET Bible.
Wallace aims to preclude an Arian reading, since ‘divine’ rather than ‘deity’ may imply the logos (which he believes to be the pre-existent Jesus) is less than God. But the statement that God's word is divine does not suggest God's word is also a person, and the statement God's word was ‘with Him’ is no different to saying that we ‘have an idea’ when referring to our own thoughts.
This is a point modern commentators make, and has been acknowledged for many centuries. As early as the 3rd Century, Tertullian wrote in Chapter 5 of Adversus Praxean
Whatever you think there is a word, whatever you conceive there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind, and while you are speaking you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which is this very reason whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are producing thought by means of that converse with your word.
Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second with you. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has Reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word.
Tertullian notes the ‘logos
‘ can be ‘with’ a person whether spoken aloud or retained in one's thoughts. I do not share Tertullian's Christology (he believed in a pre-existent Jesus who was created by God and subsequently agent of the Genesis creation) but I concur with his explanation of the way in which God's logos
was ‘with Him’ in the beginning.
The relevant scholarly literature reveals standard authorities also share this position. Dr Colin Brown, systematic theologian at Fuller Theological Seminary writes in Ex Auditu
It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John’s Gospel to read it as if it said: ‘In the beginning was the Son and the Son was with God and the Son was God’ (John 1:1). What has happened here is the substitution of the Son for Word (Greek logos), and thereby the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning. Following carefully the thought of John’s prologue, it is the Word that pre-existed eternally with God and is God.
This agrees with the Second Temple Judaism environment, in which we find God's word (‘memra
‘) consistently distinguished from Him as His agent but not considered anything more than His literal word, even when personified and anthropomorphised in the Palestinian Targum, where God's word has ‘a voice’, speaks, and ‘goes up’ (Genesis 3:8-10, Exodus 33:1, Numbers 7:89).