“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:1-3 KJV
The Word, we are told, that is, the Logos, Who took on flesh for our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ, was with God in the beginning. And in the Greek, a clearer distinction is made between the Word and God; for in the Greek it reads, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the Word was God”.
The first things to note here is the Word’s pre-existence; for it does not say “In the beginning became the Word”, but, “In the beginning was the Word.” For the Word already existed at the beginning, that is, the beginning of the ages; for the Word is He through Whom the ages were made (Heb 1:2), that is, the one through Whom God created time itself. It is evident then, that He pre-exists the ages.
Next we must give attention to “the Word was with the God”. This clause is important, for if the Word were ‘the God’, He could not be said to be with Him. We must give attention here to the words of scripture, that they do not say “the Word was with the Father”, but “the Word was with the God”; not then, as some would expound them, merely distinguishing the Word from the Father, as one person from another, but distinguishing the word from “the God”, that is, the one God. And so the Word is not “the God”, but another besides Him; They are neither the same person, nor the same individual being; the Son, being “with the God”, cannot be “the God” Who He was with. And so the truth of the Son’s real existence, as a distinct person, that is, a rational individual being distinct from the one God, the Supreme Being, is clearly declared. He is not the one God, “the God”, but the Word of that one God, together with Him, from the beginning, as a distinct individual being.
Those here who say that the Word is Himself ‘the God’, the Supreme Being, will be found then to disagree with the scriptures; since it is evident that unless the Word were distinct from “the God”, He could not have been with Him. Modalism, then, is refuted at the very outset of this gospel.
The next phrase, “and the Word was God”, is often alleged in favor of modalism, as though the Spirit, and John his instrument, would say one thing in one line, and in the very next contradict himself. Whatever, then, “the Word was God” is taken to mean, its meaning cannot be anything that would deny that the Word truly was with the God, the one God, and so, is another distinct individual being, or person, besides Him. And much has been read into this phrase over the years; some wishing to contradict the prior clause by the declaring the Word to be one God with the Father, Himself the Supreme Being, others saying that the term ‘God’ here signifies a nature, or a species, which the Word shares with the God, and others proposing various alternatives. The matter is best decided not by reading human ideas and theories, or unbiblical presuppositions, into the text of scripture here, but by rather interpreting scripture by scripture; gaining a better understanding of those passages which are less clear by those which are more clear.
And since the signal difference between the different interpretations of this clause all pertain to the meaning of the term “God” here, this is what we must closely examine. Firstly we may not that the word “God” here is not used in reference to the same subject it was in the last clause; for as we have mentioned already, in that clause it does not merely say “God”, but “the God”, indicating the one God, the Supreme Being. In this clause it merely says “God”, showing there is a different use of the term here; and, as was said above, to take “God” here in reference to “the God” of the last clause, would be to needlessly interpret the verse in contradiction to itself. What then, should we understand by the term “God” without a definite article?
Scripture gives us a reasonable answer in this: all throughout the Old Testament, and the three gospels prior, someone reading their Bible from the front cover to the back will find the word “God” used many, many times; and not always in reference to the same subject. Often, it is used to indicate the Supreme God, the one God, the Father; other times it is used of false gods and imaginary gods, mere idols. But there is another usage, not infrequent, that should catch our attention: and that is that the term is applied to both angels and rulers among men; not in a merely ironic fashion either. That is because the term ‘God’ does not merely signify the Supreme Being; nor can it only be applied to idols as well; but is signifies dominion, and so, can rightly be applied to angelic and human rulers. And it is in this sense even that the term “God” is applied to the Supreme Being, not merely as a name, but as a title indicating His dominion over all things.
Sir Isaac newton, commenting on the use of the term ‘God’ in scripture, observed:
“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies a Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)
Newton’s observation is valuable, in noting that scripture very frequently uses the word ‘God’ in a relative sense, using possessive language, paralleling how one might speak of a king or a lord as “my lord” or, “the king of Israel”. And this fits with what we see of the term throughout the whole tenor of scripture; for even satan, on account of the dominion he has over the system of this fallen world, is called ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4), and men’s appetites, when they are ruled over by them, are called their gods (Phil 3:19). It seems clear, then, that the term ‘God’ or ‘god’ simply denotes dominion and authority; and so, if we will read scripture by scripture, and take our understanding of the term ‘God’ from the Bible itself, then we must understand the word ‘God’ in this last clause of John 1:1 as being a title significant of dominion; similar to how we would understand the phrase if it said “the Word was King”, or “the Word was Lord”.
And we know that the Son shares in the Father’s authority over the universe, God ruling over all things through His Son; “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ” Matt 28:18 NASB. What we are told here, then, that the Word Who was with “the God”, that is, the one God, the Supreme Being, was Himself God, as ruling over all things, (excepting the Father, to Whom He is subject, 1 Cor 11:3) from the beginning.
The next verse reiterates the second clause of the first, emphasizing again that the Word was with the God in the beginning; and so, we see His pre-existence, as already existing in the beginning, as the one through Whom God created the ages, and that He is with “the God”, the one God, the Supreme Being. And so the Word is distinguished clearly from ‘the God’ a second time; adding still more emphasis to the fact that the Word is a distinct individual being from the one God, not Himself the one God. And this one God the Word was with, we are told in other places, is the Father (Eph 4:4, Jn 17:3); the Word being the Son of that one God, the Father; not being Himself the Supreme Being, but the Word and Son of the Supreme Being, subsisting with Him.
And in verse three, we see that it is through this Word that the one God, the Supreme Being, created the universe. All things that God made, were made through the Son, we are told; and the word translated ‘made’ in Greek is simply more broadly the term ‘came into being’, or the general word for causation. All things, we know, are caused by the one God, Who is Himself uncaused; and He caused all things through the Son. “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” 1 Cor 8:6 NKJV.
But here someone will say, that since all things are caused through the Son, the Son Himself must be excluded from things caused; and so, must be uncaused. But this would be to read scripture in contradiction to itself: for the Son declares “I live because of the Father” Jn 6:57 (for more detail see here). And the Son’s very identity as Son, and as the ‘only-begotten’ of the Father, testify to this fact as well, that he lives because of the Father, and has His origin from Him, having the Father as His cause. And since it is evident even from plain reason and natural theology, there is only one uncaused being, the Supreme Being, the one God, “the God” Who the Word was with, and is distinguished from, it is evident that the Word is Himself caused by the Father.
How then can it be that the Word is the one through Whom all things were made, then, if He Himself is caused by the Father? The answer lies in this: ‘all things’ here does not mean ‘all things in the most absolute manner possible’, but rather, excepts the Son. All things were made by God through the Son, except the Son Himself, Who is directly and immediately from the Father. And unless we wish to make scripture out to contradict itself, this is the conclusion we must come to. And we may observe, that it is not uncommon for scripture to speak in such a way. For the Son also says, as we cited above (Mt 28:18) that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and earth; and Paul says that all things are subject to the Son. What then shall we say,? By the logic some apply to this verse, then since the Son rules over all things, He Himself cannot be ruled over; and must be subject to none. Yet what does scripture say, but “God is the head of Christ” ( 1 Cor 11:3), and Paul expressly states the exception, when he wrote:
“For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 NASB.
It is evident then, that we might find many examples in scripture where “all things” is not so absolute as to admit no exception; as when we say that all things are subject to the Son, we do not say this in denial of the truth that He Himself is subject to His Father, the one God. And so in the same way, we might rightly say with scripture that all things are caused by God through His Son; yet the Son Himself, is caused by the Father. And that this causation was before all time is evident, as we showed earlier, as the Son already existed when time began, and time is one of the things made by God through the Son.