Creation, salvation, and the divinity of Christ

Creation, salvation, and the divinity of Christ: A look at John 1:1–131

Join the author in contemplating the creation language in John 1 and what it can teach us about the biblical position on origins.

Kim Papaioannou, PhD, pastors in Cyprus.

Until Darwin, Christians generally believed in a literal Creation happening about 6,000 years ago. Darwin’s work, and the resulting growth of the theory of evolution, have shattered this uniformity, and in its place a variety of approaches have emerged.

On one hand, many Christians, including respected scientists,2 still hold on to a literal Creation. This is also the official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In contrast, a majority in the scientific community hold to evolution. In between Creation and evolution, and within Christianity itself, a number of models have developed that try to bridge the gap and explain the story of Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 within a broader evolutionary framework.

The scientific dimension of the discussion is exciting. So is a study of Genesis 1 and 2. But Genesis is not the only book of the Bible that speaks about origins. Interspersed throughout the pages of Scripture are direct references and allusions to the Creation story.

Luke, listing the genealogy of Jesus, follows the account of Genesis back to Adam and God: “[Jesus] . . . the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37, 38). Paul repeatedly points to Adam: “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom. 5:14); and, “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22); and “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). Jesus notes that Abel, the son of Adam, was the first martyr: “So that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar” (Matt. 23:35). Hebrews 11, the chapter of faith, contains a long list of persons and events from the Old Testament. It begins with the Creation story (v. 3); continues with Abel and Cain (v. 4); and mentions, among others, the story of the Flood (v. 7)—assuming throughout the historical reliability of the accounts described. Many more examples could be cited.4

Any Christian outlook on the issue of origins should, then, take these other texts into account as well. This article will look at the creation language in John 1:1–13. What does it teach us about the biblical position on origins?

“In the beginning . . .”

John 1:1–13 is seen as an exposition on the divinity of Jesus.5 Yet within this passage there are seven references/ allusions to the story of Creation. The first is in the first words of the Gospel.

John 1:1 begins with the same words as Genesis 1:1, en archē, “in the beginning,” as expressed in the Septuagint, the LXX (an early Greek translation of the Old Testament). “The opening words of the Gospel are clearly intended to recall the first words of Genesis,” notes John McHugh.6 Before everything, Jesus was there. In John 1:2, John repeats the statement for emphasis: “He was in the beginning [en archē] with God.”

As Herman Ridderbos has pointed out, John refers “to the Word and to the Word’s existence with God ‘before the world was made,’ ”7 meaning that Jesus was not a part of the created order. He was there, with God, before creation began. He was with God from eternity.8 He was not created but Creator.

“. . . God . . .”

In Genesis 1:1, God continues to be the focus of attention: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So also in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Genesis presents the person of God in summary fashion as one unity. That is not to say that plurality is not present. We find a telling interplay between plurality and unity in Genesis 1:26, 27: “Then God said, ‘Let us [plural] make man in our [plural] image, after our [plural] likeness. . . .’ So God [singular] created man in his [singular] own image, in the image of God he [singular] created him; male and female he [singular] created them.” Indeed, the Hebrew word élöhîm used repeatedly in the Creation account is plural.

The plural of Genesis 1 has been interpreted in various ways,9 though there remains no reason the plurals in relation to God could not point to the Trinity.10 John, in fact, unwraps the plurality within the divinity that was hinted at in Genesis, explaining that God is composed of at least two persons, the Father, whom he here calls “God” —and Jesus, the Word, who is also God.

John twice notes that the Word was “with” God (John 1:1, 2). The Greek for “with” is not the expected preposition meta (“with”) or even para (“by”) but the unusual pros (“to/towards”). In biblical Greek the meanings of prepositions often overlap. So a number of scholars are happy to see pros as having essentially the same force here as meta or para. 11 Others, more correctly, see pros indicating not merely physical proximity but a close bond and relationship, a deep attachment to the Father. Edwin Abbott gives it the meaning “devoted to, and in converse with” God.12 As such, there is a close bond between God and the Word, a bond founded on their common nature as God.

And John does not leave it there. Just as the Spirit appears hovering over the waters in the Creation account (Gen. 1:2), likewise John witnesses the Spirit not only hovering but descending in the bodily form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus (John 1:32).

Logos—the Word

Three times in John 1:1 and once in John 1:14, John refers to Jesus by the title “Word,” Logos, a noun used here as a title. While it was customary a few decades ago to see the origins of the term primarily in Platonic thought, we find it more recognized now that, in using Logos, John draws from a Hebraic background.13 In light of John’s abundant use of Creation imagery in his introduction to his Gospel, it seems reasonable that Logos likewise comes specifically from the Creation account.

The verb legō, “to speak,” from which Logos derives, appears 11 times in the Greek text of Genesis 1 (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29), always in relation to God’s creative acts. No surprise because, according to the Creation story, everything came into being through the spoken word of God; at least apart from Adam and Eve, whom God formed with His own hands.

Likewise, logos is elsewhere used in reference to Creation: “By the word [LXX logos] of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Ps. 33:6). By tying Jesus, the Logos, with the logos of God, who brought everything into existence, John makes Jesus the acting agent in the work of Creation, a point he spells out in John 1:3. “

"All things were made through him . . .”

John continues his hymn to Jesus with a further reference to Creation: “All things were made [egeneto] through him, and without him was not any thing made [egeneto] that was made [gegonen]” (John 1:3). In this one verse, three times John uses forms of the verb ginomai, “to be, become.” This very verb is the one used profusely in Genesis 1 (23 times) of God’s creative acts.

The fact that John clarifies that “all things” were made by Jesus leaves no room for alternative means of origins of life. As such, the use of the verb ginomai further elucidates the concept of Jesus as the acting agent of the work of Creation.

The fact that “all things were made through him” and “without him was not anything made that was made” automatically places Jesus outside the created order. He was not part of all the things that were made. The thought already introduced in the first clause, “in the beginning was the Word,” which shows that Jesus is before and above the created order, is clearly spelled out here again: Jesus is Creator and not created.

“In him was life . . .”

John continues, “In him was life [zōē], and the life [zōē] was the light of men” (John 1:4). The double reference to zōē is not accidental. The concept of life plays a prominent role in the Gospel of John. While the other three Gospels refer to the everlasting reign of Jesus as “the kingdom of God,” in John we read, instead, of “eternal life.” Because through faith in Jesus eternal life is received, it is fitting that John should clarify that Jesus possesses life and, as such, is able to impart it.

This concept of life also seems to draw from Genesis. In the Creation story, God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the “breath of life [pnoēn zōēs]” (Gen. 2:7), and Adam became a “living creature [psuchēn zōsan].” He did not possess life of his own but, rather, received life from God. Because in John’s Gospel the Logos was the acting agent in Creation, it is probably fair to say that, for John, it was the Logos who knelt over the lifeless form of Adam and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. When Eve was created, Adam named her “Eve” (“life,” zōē in the LXX), because “she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

All humans owe their life to Eve, because she is the mother of all, and she, in turn, was created from Adam’s side. Adam, in turn, received his life from God. In that sense, the life of all humans has been borrowed from God, the originator of life. By contrast, Jesus has life in Himself, uncreated and unborrowed. His life was shared with Adam; and this same life will, in turn, be manifested in the form of eternal life for all who believe.

“[Jesus] . . . the light of men”

John then declares that Jesus was “the light of men,” and that this “light shines in the darkness” (John 1:4b, 5). “Light,” Greek fōs, is another favorite term of John.14 Jesus is the “true” light (v. 9) who has come into the world (John 3:19). The thought of Jesus as the true light is repeated in John 8:12; 9:5; and 12:36, 46. Also, we find a repeated contrast between light and darkness. Though the light has come into the world, the world has loved “the darkness” because their deeds are evil (John 3:19; cf. 8:12; 12:35, 46; 1 John 1:5; 2:8–11). Yet those who love the truth come to the light (John 3:21) and no longer walk in darkness (John 8:12).

The contrast between light and darkness presented in John’s introduction and developed throughout the Gospel harkens back to Creation. In the Genesis account, light was the first thing God created, and light was the element that dispelled the darkness, beginning the process of Creation; from darkness to light, from chaos to order. In Genesis no notion exists that darkness was a negative reality, though after God created light, God declared that “the light was good” (Gen. 1:4).

John takes this motif and gives it a spiritual dimension, in the sense that the world in its sinfulness and without God is dark, but the coming of Jesus has begun to disperse the darkness and bring order and spiritual beauty. Just as Jesus brought forth light at Creation to disperse the darkness, likewise He brought spiritual light to disperse the spiritual darkness of sin. The work of redemption, thus, replicates the work of Creation in the spiritual realm.

Sonship

John has a final reference to Creation in the concept of Sonship. Adam was a “son of God” by virtue of creation (Luke 3:38). He was a “son of God” in both a physical and spiritual sense. He was a “son of God” physically, in that God created him with His own hands. And he was a “son of God” spiritually, in that he and Eve were formed in the image and likeness of God. The spiritual dimension of sonship, however, was marred when Adam and Eve sinned.

But now, in Jesus, this process is reversed, and humans can again become sons and daughters of God, not only through physical descent from Adam and Eve but spiritually as well: “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

John then adds that these children of God “were born, not of blood [aimatōn] nor of the will of the flesh [sarkos] nor of the will of man [andros], but of God” (v. 13). All three words, blood, flesh, and man, appear in the Genesis account.

Blood is a symbol of human origin in God: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6). The flesh points back to the creation of both Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:21, 23) and more importantly to the divine plan of marriage and procreation instituted in Eden: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh [sarka mian]” (v. 24).

Man points back to Adam as the father of all humans and even the source from which Eve was created: “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man [andros]” (v. 23).

What John expounds in John 1:13— and in his mention of blood, flesh, and man—is a juxtaposition between the physical order of procreation established in Eden and the spiritual. After Creation, which originated in God, procreation takes place through physical means by the human will, resulting in persons who have flesh and blood—the signs of life.

The new birth, by comparison, comes essentially as a repetition of the act of Creation—but in a spiritual sense. The result does not represent a physical reality but rather a new spiritual reality that replicates the sonship of Adam and Eve—but on a higher plane. This spiritual rebirth represents an act of God to bring the new birth experience to reality and turn sinners into sons and daughters of God.

Evaluation

Evaluating the brief analysis above, we noted seven points of theology in John 1:1–13 that draw from the Genesis account: (a) the phrase “in the beginning”; (b) John’s depiction of God; (c) the title Logos applied to Jesus; (d) the picture of Jesus as the One through whom creation came into being; (e) the concept of zōé, “life”; (f) the concept of light dispelling darkness; (g) and the concept of physical and spiritual sonship.

What can we conclude?

First, Christians need to realize that the story of Creation is not told only in Genesis 1 and 2. Creation imagery permeates a large part of Scripture. A few passages were mentioned in the introduction of this article and in endnote 4; and John 1:1–13 was analyzed in more detail. But in many more biblical texts and stories, Creation looms in the background. As such, any attempt to adopt alternative models of origins entails not only a rejection of a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 but a foundational rereading of many other portions of Scripture, including John 1:1–13, in ways most Christians would not be comfortable with.

Second, evidence exists that John, in harmony with other biblical writers, accepts the Genesis account as historically accurate. If he considered the Creation account an embellished myth, he would not have utilized it to build his theology. How could Jesus be “in the beginning” with God if there was no “beginning” in the biblical sense? How can Jesus be Creator if there was no Creation to begin with? How can He be the “creating Word” if there was no “Word” active in the creation process? To what kind of sonship are we restored if there were no Adam and Eve as children of God but instead humans evolving from hominids or inanimate matter?

John’s theology presupposes the historical reliability of the foundation he builds his theology on, namely—the story of Creation. It is the historical reliability of a foundation that helps ensure the historicity of the theology built on it.

1 A shorter adapted version of this article was published in Spectrum magazine online at spectrummagazine.org/article/kim-papaioannou/2012/01/13/john-11 -13-creation-divinity-salvation.

2 For example, John F. Ashton, ed., In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation (Sydney, Australia: New Holland Publishers, 1999); David DeWitt, Unraveling the Origins Controversy (Lynchburg, VA: Creation Curriculum LLC, 2007).

3 Scripture references are from the English Standard Version.

4 For example, Matthew 13:35; 19:4, 5; 25:34; Mark 2:27; 10:6–8; 13:19; 16:15; Luke 11:50; John 17:24; Acts 4:24; 14:15; 17:24, 26; Romans 1:20, 25–27; 4:17; 5:12, 17–19; 8:19–22, 39; 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 8:6; 11:8, 9; 15:45; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 5:17; 11:3; Ephesians 1:4; 3:9; 5:31.

5 John F. McHugh observes that the first clause of John’s Gospel (John 1:1a) “asserts the pre-existence of the Logos, the second (1b) affirms that He was in a certain relationship with God, and the third (1c) states that He is some sense to be identified with God.” John 1–4: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (New York: T&T Clark, 2009), 10.

6 McHugh, John 1–4, 6. Cf. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 113.

7 Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 24.

8 William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1956), 43, 44.

9 For example, McHugh, John 1–4, 6. Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (London: SCM Press, 1972), 58, 59.

10. Beyond Genesis 1:26, 27 there are a host of other plurals in relation to God, for example, Genesis 2:18 (LXX); 3:22; 11:7; 20:13; 35:7; Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 4:7, 37; Joshua 24:19; Job 13:8; 35:10; Psalms 58:11; 149:2; Proverbs 9:10; 30:3; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Isaiah 6:8; 41:21–24; 54:5.

11 For example, C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to Saint John (London: 1978).

12 E. A. Abbott, Johannine Grammar (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1906), 2363–2366. See also the detailed discussion of I. de la Potterie, “L’emploidynamique de ειςdans Saint Jean etses incidences théologiques,” Biblica 43 (1962), 379–81.

13 Cf. William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: St. Andrews, 2001), 29–43.

14. Eight references in Matthew, 0 in Mark, 7 in Luke, and 23 in John.


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Kim Papaioannou, PhD, pastors in Cyprus.

November 2016

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