In the Beginning was the Word
A Commentary on John, Chapter One

Doug McManaman
July 8, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

In the beginning (in arche) was the Word (Logos): the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him.

The English translation of "arche" as "beginning" naturally evokes images of a temporal beginning. But "arche", as it is used in John, is not so much a temporal starting point as it is the foundation, the origin, the source or principle of all things. A principle is that upon which something depends. The same is true for the Latin "principia": "In principio erat Verbum". The Word is that upon which the entire order of creation depends for its existence at every instant.

Recall in Genesis: "God said: 'Let there be..., and there was...'. God spoke, and it came to be. In other words, all things came into being through God's Word. His Word is that upon which all things depend for their existence. Recall as well that creation was depicted within the context of a seven day period. We saw that this meant that God had entered into covenant with man, that creation was his "house" or family. The third chapter of Genesis recounts the breaking of that covenant through sin, which brought about a loss of grace with which humanity was favored in the state of original justice. The prologue of the Gospel of John is a New Testament re-creation story. But here, we come to know this Word personally and in the flesh.

It is revealed that the "Word was with God". In other words, in God there is a "being with". This means that in God, there is a kind of plurality. This plurality was already suggested in the creation story of the Old Testament: "Let us make man in our image, in the likeness of ourselves" (Gn 1, 26). But here, we are given a more complete articulation of what this plurality really is. The Word is not only with God; the Word is God. And so what is "with God", the Logos, is of the same nature as God. And since God is Yahweh, which means "I am he who is", we know that God's nature is to be. God is His own Existence. He is Being Itself. It follows, then, that the Word who is God is one in being "with God".

Not one thing came into being except through the Logos, the Word, who is with God and is God. And as a every bullet that passes through the barrel of a gun is marked and identifiable by the specific markings belonging to that barrel, or as the finger prints of the artist are noticeable in the clay on which he works, so too everything that exists bears in some way the markings of its origin in the Word. That is why man will discover himself, that is, he will come to know fully who he is only by returning to his origin in the Word.


A word is that by which we communicate with others. There are visible words, such as the words of this text. But the visible words are signs of an interior and invisible word conceived in the mind, namely the concept. A concept is an intellectual conception.  The Word that is with God and is God is also that by which God communicates Himself to others, both naturally and supernaturally. The Word is distinct from God, just as my interior word is distinct from me. But unlike our interior word, God's Word is identical to His Existence, that is, His Logos is of the same nature as Himself. Our interior words are the result of an activity made possible by virtue of a specific power, namely the power to think. Much less is my word my own act of existing. But the Word is of the same nature as God, because the Word is God, and God's nature is to exist.1

Since God is forever enduring and unchanging perfection, the conception of the Word in God is not a conception or generation that involves change. To change is to go from potentiality to actuality. The generation of the Word in God is not the realization of a potentiality, because in God there is no potentiality. The reason is that potentiality is imperfection, a capability to acquire more being. But there is no imperfection in God. He is the cause of all being, and so He cannot lack anything or be open to further perfection. Thus, the generation of the Word is an eternal and unchanging generation.

Moreover, our words are profoundly limited. Rarely are we able to fully express ourselves at one time, in one paragraph or letter, etc. But since the Word of God is of the same nature as God, and God is infinite--which is to say that He is unlimited by potentiality, it follows that the Word is also unlimited. We can say, therefore, that the Word is God's perfect communication or self-expression. In other words, the Word is everything that God can say about Himself, and what is spoken is perfectly said.

What has come into being in him was life (zoe), life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.

The life that John refers to here is not natural life, as in the first life principle (soul) of a body, such as what we read in Genesis: "God breathed life into his nostrils" (Gn 2, 7). Rather, the life of which John speaks is supra-natural life, or the life of grace (eternal life). This supra-natural life is the light that dispels the darkness. The rest of the Gospel of John will reveal more deeply that Christ (the Word in the flesh) alone is the source of this life and light. This light shone in the darkness, a darkness brought on by sin, which is the refusal to obey His spoken word: "Have you been eating from the tree I forbade you to eat?" (Gn 3, 11).

But this darkness could not overpower the light. In other words, this light is victorious. This means that darkness no longer has the final word over our lives. It is this Word, the Logos, who is the final Word, the Omega, of our lives. But human beings require a visible manifestation of this victory over darkness and death, which was foretold in Genesis: " will bruise your head and you will strike its heel" (Gn 3, 15). That is precisely what the death and resurrection of Christ is.

The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognize him. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself.

The Word entered into a world darkened by sin, and he came so that his life would be the final Word over our lives. He came to bring life to the dead. But a person who is spiritually lifeless cannot choose to believe without being gratuitously given some portion of the life that comes from "above". Sufficiently empowered by grace, therefore, every human person can either choose to accept him, or choose to remain in darkness and so shatter the impetus of that supernatural life of grace that makes it possible to move towards that light. By shattering the impetus of grace, we thereby reject the new life offered through the Word. Should a person not reject or impede the movement of divine grace within him, he will accept him and, as a result, be given power to become an adopted child of God, born from "above", that is, from God himself.

The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Logos who is with God and is God, is the Son of the Father. The Son is with the Father, and thus distinct from him, and yet the Father and the Son are of the same nature (the Word was God). The relation of Father and Son is a real and perfect relation, identical to the divine essence, which is His existence. In other words, the Son is not a separate being from the Father. Thus, the Father and the Son are of the same nature. This means that the Son is God, and the Father is God, not two Gods, but one God. But the Son is all knowing, for He is the Word through whom the Father knows Himself. Hence, the Son is a Person, distinct from the Father, but one in being with the Father.

The Christian faith is precisely that the Son (the principle upon which everything depends) joined a human nature and dwelt among us. He joined life (zoe) to his human nature, and since he is intimately united to all men in becoming a man, Jesus of Nazareth is the source, for all men, of the new life that brings us from death to life. "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself" (Jn 5, 26). He is "full of grace and truth", and it is "from his fullness that we have, all of us, received" (Jn 1, 14; 16).

There is no other source from which all of us have received. Christ is the principle (arche/principia) of this new life that endows human beings with a kind of supernatural decor, a holiness mirrored in their faces, a configuration of winsomeness and inner beauty that is characteristically lacking in those who are spiritually dead, that is, in those without faith, hope, and charity. But he came precisely to raise the dead: "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10, 10).

Now it is only by returning to its origin that we discover the meaning of a thing. For example, the origin or source of a building is in the very mind of the architect. The principle upon which the building depends exists as a word or concept in his mind, a concept that eventually becomes a blueprint to which builders refer. We see this in the etymology of the word "architect", from the Greek arche: beginning; and techne: art. It belongs to art to produce or make, but production begins with the idea or form in the mind of the architect. Man the maker is in himself an imperfect image of this divine relationship between the Father and the Son; for all production begins with the word, and what is made is brought into being (produced) through it. The end product, the building, is produced after the pattern of the interior word, which is first and is the product's source (arche). The origin and the end coincide insofar as the end is the realization of the original idea.

The Word (Logos) is in arche. The Word of the Father is the "arche" of the human person. And the Word was made flesh. The Word was made flesh by His own free and gratuitous decision. Now since God is eternal, the Word is eternal. Hence, the decision to become flesh is an eternal decision -- free and gratuitous, nonetheless. And so no amount of philosophical speculation could have anticipated the Incarnation of the Son of God. But the Word, in fact, has "become flesh". The Word did not "become" in the sense of undergoing change, because the Word is God, who is eternal and unchanging. Rather, the Son joined a human nature. Jesus is thus two natures, human and divine, but he is one Person, the Person of the Son.

What was made flesh was our origin, namely that through which man came to be. He became flesh "for us", to bring us new life, or a sharing in his divine life. He came so that we might be conformed to his image, who is the Image of the Father. He is our beginning and our end, the Alpha and Omega in every possible respect. He is everything that the Father can say about Himself, and He is everything that the Father can say about us and what we are intended to be. For the decision to join a human nature was a gratuitous one, of an essentially different order than the gratuitousness of creation. But the gratuitous decision to join a human nature was an eternal decision, not an after thought, as many are wont to conceive it.2 As St. Paul says: "Thus he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and faultless before him in love, marking us out for himself beforehand, to be adopted sons, through Jesus Christ...He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in Christ, for him to act upon when the times had run their course: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth. And it is in him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as he decides by his own will,..." (Eph 1, 4-11).

In other words, it has been revealed, through the Incarnation of the Son, that man was willed into existence with a view to being inserted into the Person of the Incarnate Word. That is why man finds his ultimate meaning and his own human and personal identity in his origin and end, the Person of the Incarnate Word, that is, Jesus of Nazareth.

Vatican II says:

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. (Gaudiam et Spes, 22)

Thus, we cannot fully be the persons we are destined to be except by allowing the life that comes through Christ to heal us, fulfill us, and lift us beyond the limits of our created nature. In him alone does fallen man achieve the fullness of humanness, of which he is the measure. The very attempt to achieve the fullness of what it means to be man outside of Christ or in spite of Christ, that is, without him, is in this light a contradiction.

To freely choose to seek perfection in spite of him is to plunge into a dehumanizing darkness. God’s goodness is his nature, and so if we truly desire to achieve the fullness of human goodness, we will not reject the life that comes through the Son, for the life that is offered to us by the Son promises the fulfillment that we seek. Moreover, that seeking is itself the beginnings of that very life he offers us.

To believe is to accept the life that the Son offers those of us who live in darkness, to cooperate with it in order to accept him, the light of the world and Word of the Father. Faith is to believe him, a Person, the Logos. To accept Jesus as he presents himself includes accepting what he says, that is, believing true the propositions he asserts.3

Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me, sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as light, to prevent anyone who believes in me from staying in the dark any more. (Jn 12, 44-45)


1 Our nature is not to exist. You and I are human. Existence, however, is something that we have. Whatever belongs to our nature belongs to us necessarily, such as rationality, risibility, emotion, etc. Existence does not belong to our nature, otherwise we'd exist necessarily. This means we could not not exist. But this is clearly false. God's nature, on the other hand, is to exist. He does not have existence. He is His existence. He exists necessarily. That is why His name is "I am". [Back]

2 Pope John Paul II writes: "Even before being created, man is "chosen" by God. This choice takes place in the eternal Son ("in him," Eph 1:4), that is, in the Word of the eternal Mind. Man is chosen in the Son to participate in the same sonship by divine adoption. The essence of the mystery of predestination consists in this. It manifests the Father's eternal love ("in love, having destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ," Eph 1:4-5). Predestination contains man's eternal vocation to participate in the very nature of God. It is a vocation to holiness, through the grace of adoption as sons ("to be holy and blameless before him" Eph 1:4). In this sense predestination precedes "the foundation of the world," namely, creation, since creation is realized in the perspective of man's predestination. By applying the temporal analogies of human language to the divine life, we can say that God "first" willed to communicate himself in his divinity to the human race, called to be his image and likeness in the created world. "First," he chose man, in the eternal and consubstantial Son, to participate in his sonship through grace. Only "afterward" ("in its turn") God willed creation; he willed the world to which humanity belongs. In this way the mystery of predestination enters "organically" in a certain sense into the whole plan of divine Providence. The revelation of this plan opens up before us the perspective of the kingdom of God and leads us to the heart of this kingdom, where we discover the ultimate finality of creation. The Mystery of Predestination in Christ. General Audience \ May 28, 1986 [Back]

3  Now it does not follow that non-Christians, who do not explicitly profess belief in Jesus as Son of God, do not receive the life of which He alone is the source. Faith, as we said, is much more than the acceptance of certain propositions, for even the devils believe. Rather, faith is the acceptance of a Person. We do not, however, wish to give the impression that the explicit acceptance of articles of faith is unimportant; nothing could be further from the truth. But it is very possible for a non-professed person to have an implicit faith in the Mediator. An implicit faith is one that believes that God will liberate humanity and reveal His truths at his own time and pleasure (Cf., S.T., 2a-2ae. ii. 7, ad3). Vatican II says:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. (Lumen Gentium, 16)

Such implicit faith is a grace, made possible by the life that "has come into being in him", which the non-professed person might very well have accepted. It is also relatively easy for the true believer to detect the supernatural life that cofers a configuration of winsomeness and beauty, that is, the supernatural quality of humanness of which Christ alone is the principle, within many non-professed persons. [Back]