References to names in parentheses are references to the commentary written by that individual and are cited according to their comments on that passage, unless otherwise noted.
Verse as a whole: Genesis 1:1 is the obvious background (Godet writes, “Moses descends the stream of time and reaches the creation of man (ver 26). John, having started from the same point, follows the reverse course and ascends from the beginning of things to eternity”), Proverbs 8:22 (on which, see Bultmann, who says, “She is pre-existent, and is God’s partner at the creation. She seeks a dwelling on earth among men, but is rejected: she comes to her own possession, but her own do not accept her.”), 1 John 1:1-4. The “en” is expressive of “continuous timeless existence” (Bernard).
Logos: John introduces the term with no explanation (Westcott). This implies that people would have had a good idea of what it meant. “As a word is a means of revealing a man’s mind to others, so Christ hath revealed the Father in his own person” (Hutcheson). Pink expands on this, and says, “He is God’s alphabet, the One who spells out Deity, the One who utters all God has to say…Christ then, is the One who has made the incomprehensible God intelligible…The Scriptures reveal God’s mind, express His will, make known His perfections, and lay bare His heart. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done for the Father…It is only in Christ that God is fully told out.” If you want to know God, then study Jesus (Pink and Boice).” “Logos” implies inward thought and outward speech (Barrett). This is “ratio” (thought) and “oratio” (speech) (Keddie). Michaels (quoted by Kostenberger) says, “Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks the word, but in the prologue he is the Word, the personal embodiment of all that he proclaims.” Bultmann writes “In the O.T. the Word of God is his Word of power, which, in being uttered, is active as event.” He further writes that no silence preceded the Word. Notice that the word of God is creative and revelatory (Barrett). Isaiah 55 tells us that God’s Word is effective for accomplishing His purpose. Why the term “logos?” J.C. Ryle notes various possibilities, all of which feed into this concept: “the wisdom of God, the express image of the Father, the subject of OT prophecy, and the speaker and interpreter of God’s will.” It is also true that God does not communicate His essence to us: it must be mediated (Meyer). “The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous” (Barrett). Therefore the whole of the Gospel needs to be read in light of this verse (ibid.). In fact, connecting 20:31 with this passage yields the following thought: “the one I want you to believe in, because the Christ is Jesus, this Jesus is also the pre-incarnate God Himself, the one responsible for all creation.”
Clause 1: “In Gen. 1:1 ‘In the beginning’ introduces the story of the old creation; here it introduces the story of the new creation. In both works of creation the agent is the Word of God” (Bruce). “Beginning” denotes the period before creation (Brown). Carson notes, “Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The Beginning,’ it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, “Mark has told about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.” Notice the difference between “was” and “became” (Bernard). This clause refutes the Arians, who say that there was a time when then Son was not.
Clause 2: Kostenberger says (connecting the first clause with the second) that “Since the Word existed in the beginning, one might think that either the Word was God or the Word was with God. John affirms both.” Here John “may already be pointing out, rather subtly, that the ‘Word’ he is talking about is a person, with God and therefore distinguishable from God, and enjoying a personal relationship with him” (Carson). Not only does the “pros” establish a relationship between God and the Word, but also it distinguishes the two from each other” (Brown, quoted in Kostenberger). See also Genesis 1:26. This refutes the Sabellian heresy (which denied distinction of persons).
Clause 3: Jesus did NOT falsely claim to be God (see 10:33, 5:18). Keener says, “Jesus did not ‘make himself’ God; he shared glory with the Father before the world began.” NEB translation is excellent: “What God was, the Word was.” This refutes Socinians and Unitarians.
Anarthrous “theos” comments: If “theos” had the definite article “ho,” then it would have implied that “no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity” (Barrett). Note Colwell’s rule, which refutes the JW’s. Colwell’s rule, applied in this instance, is relatively simple. There are two nouns in the nominative case. To discover which one is the subject of the sentence, and which is the predicate, simply look for which noun has the definite article. In this case, “logos” has the definite article, and is therefore the subject of the sentence, even though it comes after the word “theos” in word order.